Program Particulars: Getting Revenge and Forgiveness

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to Web version of audio

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(02:12–03:57) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


(2:59) Revenge as a Disease

In the May 4, 2008 edition of The New York Times Magazine, Alex Kotlowitz wrote about CeaseFire, an organization that treats inner-city violence like a disease. They employ former gang members as "violence interrupters," people who intervene in potentially violent disputes.

CeaseFire's founder, Gary Slutkin, is an epidemiologist and a physician who for 10 years battled infectious diseases in Africa:

"For violence, we're trying to interrupt the next event, the next transmission, the next violent activity," Slutkin told me recently. "And the violent activity predicts the next violent activity like H.I.V. predicts the next H.I.V. and TB predicts the next TB." Slutkin wants to shift how we think about violence from a moral issue (good and bad people) to a public health one (healthful and unhealthful behavior).

Michael McCullough wrote a letter to the editor about the article, explaining why he disagreed with the analogy between violence and infectious disease:

Before laws, police, and courts protected individual interests, we had revenge. When social disadvantage and social pressure conspire to alienate people from those institutions today, people return to revenge for self-protection. And neuroscience shows that vengeful feelings arise from normal brain processes: Feeling vengeful after victimization shows that your mind works the way it should, not that you're in the throes of an illness.

(4:56) Reference to Japanese Macaques

In one study, led by Filippo Aureli of the University of Rome, researchers observed a group of 37 Japanese macaques at the Rome Zoo. They wanted to figure out why macaques who lose fights sometimes attack the blood relatives of their aggressors. New Scientist magazine reported that the "majority of cases (74 percent) occurred brazenly, within sight of the former aggressor. Aureli thinks this boldness reveals the function of such 'kin-directed revenge'. If an aggressor is forced to witness a group attack on one of its more vulnerable relatives, it may in the future think twice before attacking its former victim."

(8:28) Brain Scans of Sweet Revenge

The researchers Ernst Fehr and Dominique de Quervain at the University of Zurich studied the brains of people contemplating revenge by setting up a game that involved punishing your opponent for double-crossing you. They found that, as the test subjects planned to punish their opponents, their brains showed activity in the part of the brain associated with pleasure and satisfaction. Fehr said, "You can look at our experiment as saying that people seem to feel rewarded when they punish a defector. Now there is nothing irrational about feeling rewarded about eating a chocolate. Similarly, there is nothing telling us that altruistic punishment is irrational."

In another brain scan study at University College London, Dr. Tania Singer and her team found that men were more likely than women to take pleasure in watching the physical punishment of people who had cheated them. When women watched the cheaters being punished, the pain center of their brains tended to light up, as though they were experiencing the pain themselves rather than feeling any satisfaction. The men's pain centers lit up only when they were watching the physical punishment of people who had not cheated them.

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(09:25–10:20) Music Element

"Hey Joe" from Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix, performed by Jimi Hendrix


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(14:17–14:59) Music Element

"For Jan" from Vibes Solidliquid, performed by Dave Hagedorn (Tom Lewis, Chris Bates, JT Bates, Phil Hey)


(15:26) Bud Welch

In 1997, two years after the Oklahoma City Bombing, Bud Welch wrote "A Father's Urge to Forgive" for TIME magazine. He explained explain why he wanted to forgive Timothy McVeigh for killing his daughter, Julie:

Every day for a year, I'd come by the fence that encircles the footprint of the Murrah building, where it once stood, where she died. And during the first few months after the bombing, I was not opposed to the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh. But as time has gone on, I've tried to think this out for myself. Right now I'm trying to deal with forgiving. I can't tell myself or anyone else that I've forgiven Timothy McVeigh, because I have not. But my spiritual being tells me I have to deal with that.

It was a year later that he got a chance to meet Timothy McVeigh's father, and he described the effect of that meeting in a story for The Forgiveness Project:

As I walked away from the house I realized that until that moment I had walked alone, but now a tremendous weight had lifted from my shoulders. I had found someone who was a bigger victim of the Oklahoma bombing than I was, because while I can speak in front of thousands of people and say wonderful things about Julie, if Bill McVeigh meets a stranger he probably doesn't even say he had a son. About a year before the execution I found it in my heart to forgive Tim McVeigh. It was a release for me rather than for him.

Bud Welch has since written and spoken widely about the importance of forgiveness. In 2006 he told his story at Mount Pisgah church in Johns Creek, Georgia.

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(23:09–25:27) Music Element

"Prodigal Son" from Beggars Banquet, performed by The Rolling Stones


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(25:28–26:47) Music Element

"The Mercy Seat" from American III: Solitary Man, performed by Johnny Cash


(31:32) Forgiving Acholi Ex-rebel Fighters

Wide Angle

The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, began waging a guerilla war on the Ugandan government in the late 1980s, eventually kidnapping more than 20,000 children to serve as child soldiers and forcing them to commit atrocities against their own families and neighbors. The Ugandan government has had an amnesty program in place since 2000, with radio broadcasts inviting former rebels to lay down their arms and rejoin their communities. Some Acholi leaders have even advocating dropping all charges of war crimes against Joseph Kony, in opposition to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Marc Lacey of The New York Times covered the Acholi movement to forgive ex-rebel fighters, and the traditional forgiveness ceremony used to welcome them back into their communities.

One after the other, they stuck their bare right feet in a freshly cracked egg, with the lieutenant colonel, who lost his right leg to a bomb, inserting his right crutch in the egg instead. The egg symbolizes innocent life, according to local custom, and by dabbing themselves in it the killers are restoring themselves to the way they used to be…. "I ask for your forgiveness," said Charles Otim, 34, the rebel lieutenant colonel, who had been abducted by the rebels himself, at the age of 16, early in the war. "We have wronged you."

PBS's Wide Angle program "Lord's Children" followed three former child soldiers as they tried to reclaim a normal life after escaping from the LRA.

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(34:29–36:44) Music Element

"Lweny Dongpe (Chantsinging & Lamellaphones Lokeme)" from Ouganda: Musique des Acholi Uganda (Music of the Acholi), performed by Ensemble Watmon Amone


(34:56) Ethnomusicologist Peter Cooke

The audio heard in the program is an excerpt of talk given by the Welsh ethnomusicologist Peter Cooke. He spoke about the music of Uganda at an event sponsored by The Guardian, called "Music, a force for good? The Ugandan story." He has also written about the role that music plays in the midst of the Ugandan conflict:

Acholiland in northern Uganda is a region that…has been torn apart by the horrors of a war between Joseph Kony's rebel army and Ugandan government forces. Yet in the crowded and squalid Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps around Gulu, young Acholi musicians and dancers frequently rehearse and create spectacular performances of their traditional dances. Do these acts change their world? They at least help make their awful state of limbo more bearable and the texts of their songs openly articulate their feelings about the seemingly unending blight on their lives and their hopes for a better future.

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(43:41–44:58) Music Element

"Piano Sonata #14 In C Sharp Minor, Op. 27/2, "Moonlight" - 1. Adagio Sostenuto" from Beethoven: Piano Sonatas #13, 14 & 23, performed by André Watts


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(43:58–44:54) Music Element

"O Lord There Is No One Save You (Ma Li Fi L-Wujudi Siwaka)" from La Chadhiliyya: Sufi Chants From Cairo, performed by La Confrerie Chadhiliyya


Voices on the Radio

is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Florida, where he directs the Laboratory for Social and Clinical Psychology. He's the author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct.

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