I’m a fan of Alicia Keys. She’s a hugely talented singer and musician, and if I was as great as her in piano and vocals, well… I might not be writing articles here on Medium.
But if you asked me if there’s one song in her catalog that I’m not fan of, that song would be “Karma” (2003). These are the lyrics of the chorus:
What goes around, comes around
What goes up, must come down
Now who’s cryin’, desirin’ to come back to me
But is this, by definition, karma? If you subscribe to the contemporary Western understanding of karma, it is. Many view karma as a form of cosmic justice, where rights are wronged, good prevails over evil, and bad people “get what they deserve.” In actuality, karma is merely the term for cause-and-effect, action-and-consequence; in essence, inseparable pairs that are grounded not in morality, but in reality.
Karma isn’t a mystical force that you can summon to support your own agenda. Yet this weaponized version of karma is so casually accepted; the idea that if you’re wronged by someone, you can always rest easy knowing that the universe will avenge you by hurting your offender.
But isn’t there something so glaringly self-centered, even sinister, about this popular belief? Do we really believe that we inherently deserve a happy Disney-ending every time, at whatever cost? Are we each entitled to a universe that’s 100% in our favour, and we’re okay — even happy — when our rivals and detractors suffer for it?
Karma isn’t vengance.
It’s not. And it’s unrealistic to expect that you will be magically avenged when someone breaks the rules. Or that if you generally follow the rules, the universe will always have your back.
There’s the saying that “cheaters never prosper,” but that’s simply untrue. You don’t have to look very far for examples of athletes who cheated to victory (Mark McGwire, Lance Armstrong) or businesses that defrauded investors for the financial gain of its executives (Goldman Sachs, Enron). Who’s to say “karma” ultimately vindicated the athletes who placed second, or the investors and pensioners with empty bank accounts.
Outside of the media spotlight, there are people all over the world suffering in all kinds of ways, every second of every day. These people aren’t necessarily suffering because they’re guilty of immoral or indecent actions against others. It’s unlikely they’ve committed the same crimes as the athletes and businesses above. They don’t all have “bad karma,” yet they still suffer all the same.
The fact is:
- Cheaters can prosper
- Not everyone will get their comeuppance
- E̶v̶e̶r̶y̶t̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶h̶a̶p̶p̶e̶n̶s̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶ ̶r̶e̶a̶s̶o̶n̶.̶ Everything happens.
In other words: bad, wrong, immoral things can and will happen to you at the hands of others — that’s out of your control. And wishing karmic retribution onto your foes won’t vindicate you when you feel vulnerable and disempowered.
Here’s what I propose.
Instead of weaponizing karma, make a better choice for yourself: let the bad stuff go. When you feel mistreated, don’t deny the reality of what’s occurring before you: apply the r.a.i.n. approach and acknowledge your situation, recognize what it’s doing to you mentally and physiologically, investigate if action’s required, and then for your own sake, let it go.
Don’t wait for karma to take care of your enemies; take care of yourself by freeing your mind of vengeful thoughts, or you might find yourself acting out your own toxic behaviour.
Remember: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”