Thu | Oct 29, 2020

Tony Deyal | An eye for an eye or two

Published:Saturday | August 15, 2020 | 12:30 AM

John F. Kennedy once said, “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” While his ultimate enemies remain nameless and he has gone to eternal rest, forgiving and forgetting are more difficult for the rest of us. I find it easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Many times, it is much better to forgive an enemy after you have got even and then rub it in some more by ensuring that the person is never allowed to forget that you forgave them. Sometimes, like Frederick William the First, King of Prussia (1688-1740), forgiveness must be forced out of us.

On his deathbed, Frederick was told by his pastor that if he wished to go to heaven, he must forgive all his enemies. Frederick immediately thought of his hated brother-in-law, George the Second, of England. He grudgingly told his wife, “In that case, write to your brother and tell him I forgive him, but be sure not to do it until after my death.” Others are not as reluctant. As a Red Cross worker during the First World War, the famous British nurse Edith Cavell helped Allied soldiers to escape from behind enemy lines. The Germans captured her. After a trial, she was convicted and sentenced to death. As she was led before the firing squad, she is reputed to have declared, “I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

The problem of how to deal with enemies faces everyone. One view is that you must love your enemy – it will drive him crazy. Francis Bacon, in one of his essays, made the point that “a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well”. The Bible advises, “Thou shalt not avenge,” but it is difficult not to contemplate, if not actually commit, revenge. There is the story of the man who carried a bitter grievance against a former friend. An angel told the man that God would give him anything in the world, provided that the friend got two. The man mulled it over and queried, “If I ask for one house, that person will get two? And if I ask for a million dollars, that maggot will receive two?” “Right on both counts,” answered the cheerful angel. “In that case,” decided the man, “I’ll take one glass eye.”


Over the years, I came to the conclusion, like Bacon, that in taking revenge, a man might get even with his enemies, but in avoiding revenge, he has proven himself superior. Since returning to Trinidad, I have been forced, many times, to rethink, revalue, but, in the end, cling tenaciously to that belief. There is one politician who is angry at me because I made a joke at his expense in my column and people are laughing at him. He can’t sue me because what I said is not libellous, so he has to say things in Parliament that he cannot say anywhere else, or have his media minions try to embarrass me. However, while I continue to have other people laughing at him, I stay clear because I have learnt, and I teach my clients, never to draw attention to bad news by attempting to rebut it.

Another politician also lied about me in Parliament, and I was initially so angry that, like most people in such a situation, I created and played through scenarios of getting even. I thought of retorts like Phocion, the Greek statesman nicknamed ‘The Good’, when Demosthenes cautioned him, “The Athenians will kill you someday when they are in a rage.” Phocion countered, “And you, when they are in their senses.” Or like Lord Northcliffe and Bernard Shaw, the playwright and noted vegetarian. Northcliffe condescended, “The trouble with you, Shaw, is that you look as if there is a famine in the land.” Shaw replied, “The trouble with you, Northcliffe, is that you look as if you were the cause of it.” Former Premier of Saskatchewan Tommy Douglas was once told by a heckler, “You little pipsqueak, I could swallow you in one bite.” Douglas returned, “And if you did, my friend, you would have more brains in your belly than you have in your head.” Even Beethoven insulted a fellow composer, “I liked your opera. I think I will set it to music.” Me, I left the guy to God, and a short time after he lied in Parliament, he was laying on a hospital bed in Washington from something from which he will never ever completely recover.


There are many times I consider scenarios beyond verbal retaliation. In the end, I return to an underlying philosophy that I was not placed here to be judge, jury, or executioner. My job, every day of my life, is to try to be the best person I can be. This is difficult, particularly trying not to judge other people. However, it would be even harder if I carried the monkey of revenge on my back and spent time in trying to get back at others for sins of omission or commission. I know that I cannot change the past. I cannot undo what I did yesterday but must make the best of today and tomorrow. My religion cannot be a bus that I ride only when it is going my way. It must be one that I command. It must have a steering wheel and brakes, guiding me along the right road and stopping me at the wrong one. As Gandhi felt, and as both he and Mandela demonstrated, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Yet, all my religion and philosophy cannot stop me from enjoying two revenge jokes, one as a warning and the other as satisfaction. While revenge may be a dish best served cold, a wife proved that it might be best hot. She came home and found her puny husband in bed with another woman. Furious, she dragged him down the stairs to the garage, put his penis in a vice, and removed the handle. Then she picked up a hacksaw. The terrified man cried, “Stop! Stop! You’re not going to cut it off, are you?” His spouse, eyes gleaming, smiled, “Nope. You are. I’m going to set the garage on fire.” The other is the story of the truck driver. He was having a bite at a roadside diner when three leather-clad Hell’s Angels bikers roared into the parking lot and strode arrogantly into the room. One bully grabbed the truck driver’s coffee, the second took his pie, and the third snatched his cigarettes. The truck driver stood up and walked out without a word. Marching over to the cook, a biker taunted, “He’s not much of a man, is he?” The cook concluded, “He’s not much of a driver, either. I’ve been looking out the window, and he just drove his truck over three Harley Davidsons.”

Tony Deyal was last seen recalling what he wanted to say when he heard a despised colleague had a new job: “I can assure you that no person would be better. He’s a great man. Let us all stand and give him a round of ammunition.” Send feedback to