Young People Ask . . .

What’s Wrong With Getting Even?

“He insulted me.”—Conneel, aged 15, in prison for murder.

Andrew, aged 14, who killed a teacher at a school dance, claimed to hate teachers and his parents and to be angry with girls for rejecting him.

TIME magazine calls it “a deadly pattern.” An angry youth smuggles a lethal weapon into his school and opens fire on his schoolmates and teachers. Such tragic incidents have begun to seem so common in the United States that one TV news network described the trend as “an explosion of violence.”

Fortunately, school shootings are still relatively rare. Even so, the recent crimes of rage reveal just how angry some youths really are. What seems to trigger such outbursts? Some of these youths were evidently enraged at an injustice or abuse of power that they experienced at the hands of people in authority. Others were evidently angered by ongoing teasing from their peers. One 12-year-old boy who shot a classmate—and then himself—had been teased about being overweight.

Admittedly, most youths would probably never think seriously of engaging in such extreme violence. Still, fighting the feelings of hurt and pain that arise when you are a victim of racism, bullying, or cruel teasing is not easy. Reflecting back on his school days, Ben says: “I was always shorter than most of the kids my age. And because my head was clean-shaven, other kids were constantly teasing me and slapping me on my head. This made me very angry. What made matters worse is that when I went to get help from people in authority, they ignored me. That made me even angrier!” Ben adds: “The only thing that kept me from getting a gun and shooting these people was the fact that I had no access to one.”

How should you view youths who seek to hurt those who have hurt them? And what should you do if you become the victim of mistreatment yourself? In answer, consider what God’s Word has to say.

Self-Control—A Sign of Strength!

Mistreatment and injustice are hardly new. One Bible writer gave this advice: “Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.” (Psalm 37:8) Far too often, rage involves a loss of self-control  and is expressed without regard for the consequences. Allowing oneself to become “heated up” can result in an explosion of rage! What may result?

Consider the Bible example of Cain and Abel. “Cain grew hot with great anger” at his brother Abel. As a result, “while they were in the field Cain proceeded to assault Abel his brother and kill him.” (Genesis 4:5, 8) Another example of uncontrolled rage involved King Saul. Jealous of the military exploits of young David, he actually threw spears not only at David but also at his own son Jonathan!—1 Samuel 18:11; 19:10; 20:30-34.

True, there are times when it is right to be angry. But even then, righteous indignation can result in evil if it is not controlled. Simeon and Levi, for example, certainly had a right to be angry with Shechem when they learned that he had raped their sister Dinah. But instead of staying calm, they stirred up violent anger, as reflected in their later words: “Ought anyone to treat our sister like a prostitute?” (Genesis 34:31) And when their anger rose to a fever pitch, they “proceeded to take each one his sword and to go unsuspectedly to the city and to kill every male” living in Shechem’s village. Their rage was contagious because “the other sons of Jacob” joined in the murderous attack. (Genesis 34:25-27) Even years later, Simeon and Levi’s father, Jacob, denounced their uncontrolled anger.—Genesis 49:5-7.

From this we learn an important point: Uncontrolled anger is a sign not of strength but of weakness. Proverbs 16:32 states: “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city.”

The Folly of Retaliation

The Scriptures thus give this advice: “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . Do not avenge yourselves.” (Romans 12:17, 19) Retaliation—whether it involves physical violence or just cruel words—is ungodly. At the same time, such vengeance is simply impractical and unwise. For one thing, violence usually results in more violence. (Matthew 26:52) And cruel words often beget more cruel words. Remember, too, that anger is often unjustified. For example, can you really know that the person who offended you bore you ill will? Could it be that the person was simply being thoughtless or crude? And even if malice was involved, does the situation really make retaliating the right thing to do?

Consider the Bible’s words at Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22: “Do not give your heart to all the words that people may speak, that you may not hear your servant calling down evil upon you. For your own heart well knows even many times that you, even you, have called down evil upon others.” Yes, it is unpleasant to have people say bad things about you. But the Bible acknowledges that it is a fact of life. Is it not true that you have probably said things about others that would better have been left unsaid? So why should you overreact when someone says something unkind about you? Oftentimes, the best way to handle teasing is simply to ignore it.

Along the same lines, it is unwise to overreact when you feel that you have been mistreated. A teenager named David recalls what took place when he played basketball with some fellow Christians. “Someone from the other team hit me with the ball,” says David. Quickly concluding that this was a malicious act, David retaliated, throwing the ball back at the other player. “I was real mad,” admits David. But before matters deteriorated further, David prayed to Jehovah. He said to himself, ‘What am I doing, wanting to fight a Christian brother?’ Later, they apologized to each other.

In such situations it is good to remember the example of Jesus Christ. “When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening.”  (1 Peter 2:23) Yes, when under stress, instead of reacting, pray to God and ask him to help you to maintain self-control. He will generously “give holy spirit to those asking him.” (Luke 11:13) Instead of retaliating when someone has offended you, perhaps the thing to do is approach that person and talk about it. (Matthew 5:23, 24) Or if you are the victim of some ongoing form of serious harassment, perhaps from a school bully, do not seek an ugly confrontation. Instead, you need to take practical steps to protect yourself. *

A Youth Who Put Away Rage

Many youths have applied these Bible principles with good results. Catrina, for example, was given up for adoption at an early age. She says: “I had a problem with rage because I didn’t understand why my birth mother gave me up. So I would take it out on my adoptive mother. For some silly reason, I felt that if I hurt her, I was actually getting back at my birth mother in some way. So I did everything—verbal abuse, stomping, tantrums. Slamming doors was my favorite. I also used to say, ‘I hate you!’—all because I was so angry. Looking back, I can’t believe that I did these things.”

What helped Catrina control her anger? She replies: “Reading the Bible! This is so important because Jehovah knows how we feel.” Catrina also found comfort when she and her family read Awake! articles that dealt with her particular family situation. * “All of us were able to sit down together and understand one another’s feelings,” she recalls.

You too can learn to control feelings of rage. When confronted with teasing, bullying, or mistreatment, remember the words of the Bible at Psalm 4:4: “Be agitated, but do not sin.” Those words can help you to avoid giving in to destructive rage.


^ par. 18 For practical advice on dealing with unjust teachers, school bullies, and harassers, see the “Young People Ask . . .” articles appearing in the February 8, 1984; August 22, 1985; and August 8, 1989, issues of Awake!

^ par. 21 See the series entitled “Adoption—The Joys, the Challenges,” appearing in the May 8, 1996, issue of Awake!

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Oftentimes, the best way to handle teasing is simply to ignore it