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The High Cost Of Getting Even
One night, years ago, as I was travelling through Yellowstone Park, I sat with other tourists on bleachers facing a dense growth of pine and spruce. Presently the animal which we had been waiting to see, the terror of the forests, the grizzly bear, strode out into the glare of the lights and began devouring the garbage that had been dumped there from the kitchen of one of the park hotels. A forest ranger, Major Martindale, sat on a horse and talked to the excited tourists about bears. He told us that the grizzly bear can whip any other animal in the Western world, with the possible exception of the buffalo and the Kadiak bear; yet I noticed that night that there was one animal, and only one, that the grizzly permitted to come out of the forest and eat with him under the glare of the lights: a skunk. The grizzly knew that he could liquidate a skunk with one swipe of his mighty paw. Why didn't he do it? Because he had found from experience that it didn't pay.
I found that out, too. As a farm boy, I trapped four-legged skunks along the hedgerows in Missouri; and, as a man, I encountered a few two-legged skunks on the sidewalks of New York. I have found from sad experience that it doesn't pay to stir up either variety.
When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health, and our happiness. Our enemies would dance with joy if only they knew how they were worrying us, lacerating us and getting even with us! Our hate is not hurting them, but our hate is turning our own days and nights into a hellish turmoil.
Who do you suppose said this: "If selfish people try to take advantage of you, cross them off your list, but don't try to get even. When you try to get even, you hurt yourself more than you hurt the other fellow"? ... Those words sound as if they might have been uttered by some starry-eyed idealist. But they weren't. Those words appeared in a bulletin issued by the Police Department of Milwaukee.
How will trying to get even hurt you? In many ways. According to Life magazine, it may even wreck your health. "The chief personality characteristic of persons with hypertension [high blood pressure] is resentment," said Life. "When resentment is chronic, chronic hypertension and heart trouble follow."
So you see that when Jesus said: "Love your enemies", He was not only preaching sound ethics. He was also preaching twentieth-century medicine. When He said: "Forgive seventy time seven", Jesus was telling you and me how to keep from having high blood pressure, heart trouble, stomach ulcers, and many other ailments.
A friend of mine recently had a serious heart attack. Her physician put her to bed and ordered her to refuse to get angry about anything, no matter what happened. Physicians know that if you have a weak heart, a fit of anger can kill you. Did I say can kill you? A fit of anger did kill a restaurant owner in Spokane, Washington, a few years ago. I have in front of me now a letter from Jerry Swartout, chief of the Police Department, Spokane, Washington, saying: "A few years ago, William Falkaber, a man of sixty-eight who owned a cafe here in Spokane, killed himself by flying into a rage because his cook insisted on drinking coffee out of his saucer. The cafe owner was so indignant that he grabbed a revolver and started to chase the cook and fell dead from heart failure-with his hand still gripping the gun. The coroner's report declared that anger had caused the heart failure."
When Jesus said: "Love your enemies", He was also telling us how to improve our looks. I know women-and so do you-whose faces have been wrinkled and hardened by hate and disfigured by resentment. All the beauty treatments in Christendom won't improve their looks half so much as would a heart full of forgiveness, tenderness, and love.
Hatred destroys our ability to enjoy even our food. The Bible puts it this way "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."
Wouldn't our enemies rub their hands with glee if they knew that our hate for them was exhausting us, making us tired and nervous, ruining our looks, giving us heart trouble, and probably shortening our lives?
Even if we can't love our enemies, let's at least love ourselves. Let's love ourselves so much that we won't permit our enemies to control our happiness, our health and our looks. As Shakespeare put it:
Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot
That it do singe yourself.
When Jesus said that we should forgive our enemies "seventy times seven", He was also preaching sound business. For example, I have before me as I write a letter I received from George Rona, Fradegata'n 24, Uppsala, Sweden. For years, George Rona was an attorney in Vienna; but during the Second World War, he fled to Sweden. He had no money, needed work badly. Since he could speak and write several languages, he hoped to get a position as correspondent for some firm engaged in importing or exporting. Most of the firms replied that they had no need of such services because of the war, but they would keep his name on file ... and so on. One man, however, wrote George Rona a letter saying: "What you imagine about my business is not true. You are both wrong and foolish. I do not need any correspondent. Even if I did need one, I wouldn't hire you because you can't even write good Swedish. Your letter is full of mistakes."
When George Rona read that letter, he was as mad as Donald Duck. What did this Swede mean by telling him he couldn't write the language! Why, the letter that this Swede himself had written was full of mistakes! So George Rona wrote a letter that was calculated to burn this man up. Then he paused. He said to himself: "Wait a minute, now. How do I know this man isn't right? I have studied Swedish, but it's not my native language, so maybe I do make mistakes I don't know anything about. If I do, then I certainly have to study harder if I ever hope to get a job. This man has possibly done me a favour, even though he didn't mean to. The mere fact that he expressed himself in disagreeable terms doesn't alter my debt to him. Therefore, I am going to write him and thank him for what he has done."
So George Rona tore up the scorching letter he had already written, and wrote another that said: "It was kind of you to go to the trouble of writing to me, especially when you do not need a correspondent. I am sorry I was mistaken about your firm. The reason that I wrote you was that I made inquiry and your name was given me as a leader in your field. I did not know I had made grammatical errors in my letter. I am sorry and ashamed of myself. I will now apply myself more diligently to the study of the Swedish language and try to correct my mistakes. I want to thank you for helping me get started on the road to self-improvement."
Within a few days, George Rona got a letter from this man, asking Rona to come to see him. Rona went-and got a job. George Rona discovered for himself that "a soft answer turneth away wrath".
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