So does this help explain some of the reactions to the news of bin Laden's death?
I actually thought the response was pretty subdued. People were not sort of savoring the bringing low or humiliation of our enemies more than the accomplishment of a really long goal, which isn't inconsistent with revenge being part of a long-planned goal. It may be that the amount of grief we've had to suffer as a nation has kind of muted our ability to enjoy our revenge too much. I think the reaction tells us a lot about human nature. Given some time and distance, that hot thirst for revenge really gets tempered by other things.
What are some of the alternatives to the impulse for revenge?
You can simply say, "I'm going to make it impossible for you to harm me" by avoiding them—you can kick them out of your camp, you can move, you can change jobs.
You can accept the abuse. You can say, "This relationship is valuable to me." You might love the person or say, "Look, I really need this job, so I'll pretty much let this person do anything they want to me"—you'll just accept a certain level of mistreatment because at the end of the day, you're still up relative to your alternative.
The final thing you can do is that you can forgive. It can signal a return to a positive attitude to the person who harmed you if they are willing to change their behavior. It's an attempt to get a relationship back without enacting revenge.
That's a dicey thing. It's saying, "Look, I'm not going to teach you a lesson. I'm going to hold this harm aside because this relationship is valuable—you're my friend and I've been watching football on your wide-screen TV for 10 years. But it requires you to change your regard for me."
With all of those cues in place, forgiveness seems like a reasonable thing to do. But it's hard. It's easy to mistake forgiveness for weakness, and that's just the hard truth of our social world today—inaction is easy to mistake for lack of nerves.