A Spiteful Respite
Cut off my nose to spite my face?
It's an act bearing very little grace
Why would anyone want to cause such mayhem?
~Because it leads to a place where pain won't stay
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The proverbial "they" say that spite is bad, but what if it is not all bad? What if it were used merely as an unintentional coping or defense mechanism that perhaps only the subconscious is aware of at the time of its use. A mechanism that does not inherently have any malicious intent but that still has the potential to annoy or to irritate others. Unlike malicious or purposefully spiteful behavior, however, spite itself is not the satisfaction, rather the feelings of determination and self preservation gained from it.
Sound a bit confusing? Not really. Think about it and explore further, if you will.
Definitions of Spite
Google's ever helpful self describes spite as "a desire to hurt, annoy, or offend someone" or to deliberately do these things.
Dictionary.com says it is "a malicious, usually petty, desire to harm, annoy, frustrate, or humiliate another person; bitter ill will; malice."
Merriam-Webster.com offers two slightly different descriptions:
1. Petty ill will or hatred with the disposition to irritate, annoy, or thrwart
2. A desire to harm, anger, or defeat another person, especially because you feel that you have been treated wrongly in some way
There's a natural law of karma that vindictive people who go out of their way to hurt others will end up broke and alone.
Wretched are those who are vindictive and spiteful.
It would be spiteful to put a jellyfish in a trifle.
~ Karl Pilkington
Examples of Malicious Spite
Spite is something often acted upon on impulse. When it is purposeful, it means that one consciously chooses to carry out a spiteful act. It is an action meant to cause harm or annoyance to another solely because the spiteful one feels harmed somehow by that person. It is like an impulsive form of revenge. And sometimes it is just a thought.
It happens often among siblings. Say a sibling accidentally breaks his brother's toy. Or maybe the sibling somehow got something the other boy did not get. Now, out of spite, the boy eats the last cookie, knowing it belongs to the sibling. Teens may spread rumors about one another and couples may withhold sex from one another out of spite. A co-worker may get the promotion another wanted, thus prompting the one passed over to hope for his co-worker's failure.
The list could go on and these examples are relatively petty, as spite often is, though even trivial spiteful actions can have serious consequences. It can ruin relationships, cost a coworker his job, or cause loss of property. And when spite is truly malicious, it can even cause bodily harm or death.
While injurious, vindictive behavior is not funny by any means, spiteful thoughts can be. Comic relief works precisely because it is only a thought with no intention of actually hurting someone. If someone actually thought the way the guy in the video below does, it would not be as funny. Especially since spite has potential to poison the soul of the one feeling it, rotting from the inside out.
A humorous look at malicious spite. . .
Spite As a Coping Mechanism
On the other hand, spite can be helpful. It can make a person feel better, if only for a moment, as with seeing humor in it. Or it can work in other ways, like a defense mechanism. Just as spite has the power to destroy, it also has the power to heal.
Think of a soldier that has lost his leg at war. He might feel broken for quite some time. But with the right attitude, he can choose to overcome, if only to spite the enemy, the anger and the doubts. He can run a marathon on a prosthetic.
Spite is used in everyday scenarios as well. When a person decides to prove someone else wrong, spite is at work. Anyone told that success is not an option can rely on it as a motivation to succeed. It may not be a motivator one is completely conscious of, but it works nonetheless. Spite provides a certain repite from the undesired. It works as a coping mechanism for anything from the petty annoyances of everyday life to more serious matters.
The key is not to cut off the nose in order to spite the face even when it seems easier said than done. For instance, people that are not normally prone to holding grudges might hold one solely to avoid facing other negative emotions that would have to be dealt with. In that sense, it is a defense mechanism, probably used in conjunction with avoidance, the way one avoids that which might hurt or be difficult. Yet, the grudge can do more harm when forgiveness is no longer an option.
Cut Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face
According to Wikipedia, cutting off the nose to spite the face is a discouragement against acting out of pique or resentment. It is an expression that speaks of causing more harm to one's self than another. It is an overreaction, usually making things worse before they get better.
There are historical examples of governments spiting themselves while spiting another. The Embargo Act of 1807 is one such example. During the embargo, the United States Congress prohibited all imports and exports so that the U.S. could take a stance against the British and French interference. It, of course, also hurt the U.S. economy. For that reason, it is considered to be a great failure. Although, it did have a few benefits in the long run, however unintended. One is that textile and manufacturing industries became more independent and flourished, which meant less reliance on foreign merchants.
Another historic example is of a group of nuns living in an abbess in Coldingham, England during the nineteenth century. When they got word of Vikings coming to attack, the nuns all literally cut off their noses and upper lips. Upon seeing the ugly, bloody sight, the Vikings did not rape the nuns. They still killed the women and burned the monastery. But the women died on their own terms - with their virginity intact.
Perhaps that is really what spite is about. Even with unintentional spite, there is an underlying desire to control or change a situation. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is necessary to give up some of the control. Maybe the key is actually learning how to tell the difference between when to use it and when to let go of it. That is the truly difficult part.
Spite Gone Wrong
To Spite vs. In Spite Of
A possible distinction can be made between 'spite' and 'in spite of'. It may very well be a subtle distinction, but it bears cconsideration.
Some say that 'despite' and 'in spite of' are merely synonymous, in which case, there would not be any difference unless 'despite' references use of the good benefits of spite. What are your thoughts?
Quotes About Spite
I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.
~D.H. Lawrence. Letters (Letter to Cynthia Asquith, November 1913)
An encouraged person will eventually get his drive from encouragement; he becomes dependent. A person that never really receives encouragement learns to move out of spite; he becomes more independent.
~Chriss Jami, Killosophy
When making a point, there are two types of people who may disagree with you: those who can support their reasons and the childish ones who are too worried about being told what to do.
~Chriss Jami, Killosophy
Witholding love is a bit like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
~Matthew Kelly, The Seven Levels of Intimacy: The Act of Loving and the Joy of Being Loved
For, like desire, regret seeks not to be analysed but to be satisfied. When one begins to love, one spends one's time not in getting to know what one's love really is, but in making it possible to meet next day. When one abandons love, one seeks not to know one's grief but to offer to her who is causing it that expression of it which seems to be the most moving. One says the things which one feels the need of saying, and which the other will not understand, one speaks for oneself alone. I wrote: 'I had thought that it would not be possible. Alas, I see now that it is not so difficult.' I said also: 'I shall probably not see you again.' I said it while I continued to avoid showing a coldness which she might think affected, and the words, as I wrote them, made me weep because I felt they expressed not what I should have liked to believe but what was probably going to happen.
~Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower (In Search of Lost Time, #2)
If you have the time, enjoy some musical examples. Also, an episode of a television show worth watching.