Isaac Newton formulated a law of motion saying: ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’; and his law has stood us in good stead for hundreds of years since.
Its application was in the field of physics; but it has application also in human relations; maybe not quite as regularly as in physics, but pretty often nonetheless.
In discussing how it applies to human relations in this article, and more especially so in business relations, I want to show and so advocate how handling well one’s own behaviour, towards oneself and towards others, is to the general good, and as such is productive of more wealth creation than is say and aggressive or a scattergun approach to handling oneself and others.
Shakespeare’s Jew of Venice, Shylock, was much maligned for his race and creed (as was too general for Jews in those days) and he pleads in the courtroom, where, in part, because he is a Jew, he is accused of being an inhuman monster:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
This ‘we’ he is talking about might be humanity in general because his claims are not only applicable to Jews. Our natural passions prefer us giving others like for like: ‘As you give, thus shall you be meted out’.
Our natural passions unrestrained are for loving those who love us and hating those who hate us; and are for helping those who help us and harming those who harm us. ‘Every action has a reaction’.
The Biblical law ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ is not, as it is too commonly taken to be by non-Jews, a call for vengeance and for doing hurt to people as much as they hurt you. It is very much the opposite. It is a restraint, a curb, a regulation, which is set so as to prohibit those hurt or cheated from taking too much vengeance on the perpetrators. This law is saying then that only as much as an eye can be taken in recompense for the taking of an eye.
And so an ‘equal and opposite’ reaction against having been harmed or annoyed might often be considered insufficient by the natural person listening to his natural passions for revenge.
Can you see where this is going with business and with business relationships? When a guy has gotten out of order and deliberately messed you up in some way; not paying on time or sabotaging a project or such; the temptation for you is to take a hammer and smash his business or sometimes smash him himself? You feel you want, as you say, to make an example of him.
What you really want is not so much to deter others from doing likewise to you; rather you want satisfaction pure and simple of your incensed passions against him. As Shakespeare has Shylock say: ‘let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of his fair flesh’.
Hence a punishment felt to be too heavy is sometimes said by observers to be a person injured demanding as redress ‘a pound of flesh’.
This way the spirit of Cain is raised in us, and we ponder murder in our hearts. And this is why in business we need and make regulations and sign agreements with partners, and we propose penalties beforehand, at a time when we are calm, and can see the objective situation better, with a cool head.
So when, as it frequently is, a case of an injured party in business seeking punitive costs or harms so as to aim to ruin or smash their adversary, only the lawyers are winners in fact. This is because contrary to the saying that ‘vengeance is best served cold’, in reality most times vengeance allows no real satisfaction at all. Not even psychologically as – a much misused term – ‘closure’. Shakespeare has another Venetian of his say about jealousy something which equally can be said about punitive vengeance being served out; that it ‘mocks the meat it feeds on’.
The meat of vengeance is in a sense of victory, supremacy, dominance in an exultant punisher for having crushed another altogether. It offers nothing at all that is practically useful or beneficial; not even to the avenger taking relishing with his meat – especially not to the avenger even.
In these cases avengers feed on meats which whet an appetite better quelled than indulged; better regulated than given free rein. It is a meat which sickens the health of a mind and a body because it substitutes one grievous loss as recompense for another grievous loss. Punitive loss and harm offered to and wreaked upon a business enemy or opponent, substitutes for the offerer as recompense for a business loss suffered by him, usually concerning work or money. It just cannot be healthy for a body and a mind to accept as due quittance such a punitive loss inflicted by them on another, even when that other was cause of the loss; and whether or not that other had been culpable.
In these case the balance and equanimity of business relations suffer generally and adversely, because the precedent set and the example given by attritional acts of revenge, act to pollute the wellsprings of good faith, and of prima facie goodwill upon which doing business with facility best thrives. In practice this means to an economic community real actual loss of wealth and productivity.
This lack of balance and equanimity when a community or a part of it is at war with itself, and when business minds find themselves happy to be fed on red meats of punitive revenges: this cannot but destabilise and throw into disorder such a community; and to the extent that that those minds hold sway and influence within that community.
Simply put, the result is that buyers and seller in a community become inhibited and cautious, less trustful and more predisposed to secrecy, deception and a close-handed self-regard, so that their doing business through their companies and deals will become likewise much eviscerated.
Revenge has been termed ‘a kind of wild justice’. How much more wild and predatory then is an attritional revenge?
So if we can keep our business reparations to a maximum of ‘an eye for and eye’; and maybe in practice it would remain most beneficial for us all in business to stay ourselves a good deal short of such a demand; we might in fact be removing burdens from our own shoulders by doing so?
It’s an imperfect place, the business environment, as is the wide world in general, and very few human disturbances in it are so black and white cut and dried 100% good/bad, true/false, right/wrong, that firstly
It could equally well have been ourselves in a dock at another time and place; and
Few cases are without mitigations, either in favour of a defendant or against a claimant.
In the summing up, I would like to use Shakespeare again, and take from his play Hamlet for your recommendation this exchange:
Lord Polonius: My Lord, I will use them [a troupe of actors] according to their desert
Hamlet: God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man
After his desert and who should ‘scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
They deserve, the more merit is your bounty.
Take them in.