Vigilante Justice

By Mark Schiffman, Psy.D.

Sometimes I wish I had a superpower. I am not talking in the realm of supernatural Wonder Women or genetically mutated Spiderman, but would settle for a technologically advanced Batman. My goal would not be to save the world from aliens or New York from criminal masterminds.  My aspirations are more modest.  Do you know that frustration that builds up when you are crossing the street and a driver decides that if he just turns fast enough he could make it before he hits you? It is precisely at that moment, when I am forced to stop in my tracks and the wind from the car pushes me back, that the wish comes – what if I could just give the guy a flat tire with my Batarang or even just lightly scratch his car with my Gauntlet?

It is common, and I would argue, at times healthy, to feel frustrated or even angry when someone does something against the rules.  This is especially true when there is some threat of danger either to ourselves or to others involved.    Healthy anger, as a response to injustice or unfairness, can motivate one to act in a productive manner.  For instance, if there is a dangerous intersection, where cars are not yielding to pedestrians, we can call our elected officials and ask for a speed bump, a stop sign, a light, a police presence or whatever would help minimize the frequency of the problem.

Where the anger becomes unhealthy is if our fantasies of vigilante justice and revenge-seeking eat up our cognitive space to the point where we have no room for anything else.  It becomes unhealthy (in my opinion), if I actually follow through on my superpower wishes and damage the person’s car to get revenge.   It becomes unhealthy, if I become an “injustice collector,” looking for more and more (perhaps non-threatening) things that other people are doing wrong to get bothered about.  If we find ourselves being preoccupied with unproductive anger in response to injustices, it may be time to reflect on how we can think and behave more productively.

Mark Schiffman


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