Is Tit for Tat a Practical Response?

By:  Wendell Krossa

The material below on the example of Nelson Mandela regarding the practicality of unconditional treatment of others as a potent response to evil (the evil of retaliation). Related to that is some new comment from Bob Brinsmead on the practicality of non-retaliation, or unconditional response, in personal relationships.

More on the potency and practicality of unconditional response and relating

Consistently, just like the characters in Jesus’ short stories, good and moral people react to the ideal of unconditional love with offense. They claim that it is just too impractical an ideal for contemporary society and it is a weak response to evil. This was the very reaction of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable, and similar to the reaction of the vineyard workers toward the unconditional generosity of the owner. All these good, moral people believed in tit for tat treatment of offenders.

But the entire world has just celebrated a profound illustration of unconditional love (a rejection of tit for tat response) in the like of Nelson Mandela. This one man gave us a stunning example of just how practical and powerful unconditional love is for improving life and bettering human society, in our contemporary world. Unconditional is indeed the most potent and practical response to the evil and violence of retaliation. It spared South Africa the horrors of violent civil war.

Early in his life Mandela rejected the non-violent policy of the ANC and argued that violence was a proper response for some situations. But later in life he realized how wrong and irrational his youthful zeal had been. He came to believe that treating others unconditionally would bring out the best in them and turn enemies into friends. This would produce the best outcomes for all.  By forgiving and forgetting and including without conditions, Mandela repeatedly turned foes into colleagues and defused potential conflicts.

When he first left prison the South African situation was ripe for civil war.  Young leaders like Chris Hani and Bantu Holomisa appealed to the more impulsive sectors of the population and catered to the widespread lust for revenge. “There were untold millions of blacks in South Africa for whom vengeance was more appealing than reconciliation, who could not and did not want to forget the past as Mandela urged them to do”, (Richard Stengel in Mandela’s Way).  Stengel says that another leader, the Zulu Mangosuthu Buthelezi, was also willing to lead the country to civil war to achieve his own ends. Mandela included these men in his circle of colleagues and convinced them that there was a better way for the good of the country, to forgive, to reconcile, and to include all in a democratic non-racial society.

Mandela exhibited unconditional love toward all these people and successfully led his country away from the violence of retaliation and toward a more peaceful society and future. He was rightly celebrated worldwide for this striking example of humanity.

The South African situation stands in such contrast with other areas like Rwanda or Serbia where hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered and entire societies ruined for years by civil war; all because people gave way to the lust for retaliatory vengeance.  It was said that in Serbia hatreds had been passed down over centuries from generation to generation till finally the opportunity for retaliation appeared and vengeance then erupted in the horror of violent bloodshed and mass death.

Now tell me seriously…is unconditional treatment of others still impractical or a weak response to evil?

Bob Brinsmead on Non-retaliation in relationships

Non-retaliation in human relationships is extremely down to earth. It starts with ordinary, everyday relating, with those closest to us. Since love is about respecting and accepting the freedom of the other, we have to conclude that the tendency to control and manipulate others is inhuman, contrary to love (evil). It is also part of the hierarchical way of relating which is essentially the way of the animal kingdom.

To love unconditionally means that there will be no retaliation in a relationship. Yet retaliation is generally at the heart of all personal friction. For instance, if one party (partner) feels neglected, ignored, and not accorded one’s rights in any given situation, the other party may seek justice, fairness, or balance through some subtle kind of retaliation. It can take many forms- like an attitude which says, “It is only fair that I should neglect your needs just as you have neglected my needs”, or, “I will make you feel offended/miserable/peeved, just as you have made me feel offended/miserable/peeved”. Or, “I will give you back the same kind of medicine/treatment”. Or perhaps worst of all, use guilt as a lever to change/control/manipulate the other person. These (and we could add a legion more) are just examples of retaliation.

Retaliation can only perpetuate strife rather than end it.

Retaliation is the act of withholding love until the offending other changes and repays the debt you perceive is owed to you.  Retaliation is the opposite of forgiveness.  It is the declaration of war rather than the cessation of hostilities.  On the other hand, the truly human way of relating- a thing which Jesus calls the rule of God- is not to retaliate, that is, not to seek justice by treating others as they have treated us.  As Mandela said regarding the hostile others, “Let us surprise them with our generosity”.