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Natural Inclination

When we are wronged in some way, our natural inclination is to fight back, to get even. Needless to say, this reaction, though thoroughly human, is almost always in error. “Forgiveness,” said Epictetus, “is better than revenge, for forgiveness is the sign of a gentle nature, but revenge is the sign of a savage nature.”

A dramatic example is the experience of a Hungarian refugee—to protect his privacy we’ll call him Joseph Kudar. Kudar was a successful young lawyer in Hungary before the uprisings in that country in 1956. A strong believer in freedom for his country, he fought Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest with his friends. When the uprising failed, he was forced to flee the country.

When Kudar arrived in the U.S. he had no money, no job, no friends. He was, however, well educated; he spoke and wrote several languages, including English. For several months he tried to get a job in a law office, but because of his lack of familiarity with American law, he received only polite refusals.

Finally, it occurred to him that with his knowledge of language he might be able to get a job with an import-export company. He selected one such company and wrote a letter to the owner.

Two weeks later he received an answer, but was hardly prepared for the vindictiveness of the man’s reply. Among other things, it said that even if they did need someone, they wouldn’t hire him because he couldn’t even write good English.

Crushed, Kudar’s hurt quickly turned to anger. What right did this rude, arrogant man have to tell him he couldn’t write the language! The man was obviously crude and uneducated—his letter was chock-full of grammatical errors!

Kudar sat down and, in the white heat of anger, wrote a scathing reply, calculated to rip the man to shreds. When he’d finished, however, as he was reading it over, his anger began to drain away. Then he remembered the biblical admonition, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”

No, he wouldn’t mail the letter. Maybe the man was right. English was not his native tongue. Maybe he did need further study in it. Possibly this man had done him a favor by making him realize he did need to work harder on perfecting his English.

Kudar tore up the letter and wrote another. This time he apologized for the previous letter, explained his situation, and thanked the man for pointing out his need for further study.

Two days later he received a phone call inviting him to New York for an interview. A week later he went to work for them as a correspondent. Later, Joseph Kudar became vice president and executive officer of the company, destined to succeed the man he had hated and sought revenge against for a fleeting moment—and then resisted.

Bits & Pieces, March 31, 1994, pp. 12-15