Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: The Best Revenge

Several years ago the New York Times carried a review of an autobiographical account of Michel Goldberg's attempt to settle a score with history. The book is titled NAMESAKE, which is essentially a story about a man whose search for his real name led to a search for himself. He discovered that his French name was not his true name, and that he was not originally Catholic, but Jewish. He had been placed with a French family during World War II for his protection from the Gestapo. He had been living with his mother and step-father after his real father had been arrested, deported to Auschwitz, and executed. His troubled spirit over his identity drove him to be an over-achiever in the banking business. He needed one success after another to fill the emptiness he felt within.

One year he found himself in La Paz, Bolivia, managing the Bolivian branch of the banking network for which he worked. He discovered that living openly as a semi-celebrity in Bolivia was Klaus Barbie, the former head of the Nazi operation against the Jews in France. The French courts had sentenced him to death, but Bolivia had refused to extradite him. This man, known as the Butcher of Lyon, was the man who had sent Goldberg's father to Auschwitz. All of the energy of his life-long struggle suddenly became focused on Barbie in the form of a passionate hatred. He bought a handgun and painstakingly learned to fire it with accuracy. He rehearsed shooting Barbie over and over with dry-runs of meeting him and acting out the murder in his mind.

Finally, one day, the moment of truth came. He found himself in the park with a loaded gun in his pocket, and Barbie was only a few yards away with his back turned. He fingered the weapon, on the verge of realizing his life-long plan of vengeance, but he could not bring himself to shoot this pathetic old man in the back, even though Barbie was a Nazi war criminal and responsible for sending his father to his death at Auschwitz. He went back to his room fully expecting that he would feel ashamed of his cowardice. But to his surprise, he did not. He felt strangely calm and at peace within himself.

Then it dawned on him what had happened. He had killed a Nazi that day, but it was not Klaus Barbie. He had killed the Nazi in himself.

Had he killed Barbie, he would have been much more the victim of violence than he had ever been. He would have belonged to what he had hoped to destroy. By not killing the man who sent his father to Auschwitz, he had purged his own soul of the Nazi that had almost taken over his life. For the first time in his life he felt free.

Of all the battles we fight, the most important ones are not against others, but within ourselves. When we realize that our greatest enemy is not without but within, it becomes obvious that the proper weapons are not guns and knives, but prayer, love and self-discipline. When you win a battle on that battleground, you will find that you have won the war.

Is there something or someone in your life to which this lesson could be applied?