The word “evil” seems archaic. It conjures images of a red demon with horns and a desire to destroy everyone and everything.
The fact that any living creature would be happy to destroy others for no reason other than for its own pleasure baffles me, and yet people have proven they can and will do so — repeatedly.
Serial killers are one example. Perpetrators of genocide such as the Hutu extremists in Rwanda, Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II and the US government in its relations with Native Americans and people subjugated under slavery.
These actors of evil-doing across countries and time show humanity how “evil” we can be to each other.
Growing up, I was taught to see the good in people and have practiced trying to find that good in each person even when presented his or her bad traits and actions.
Sometimes that can take a lot of mental gymnastics. In my mind, I may be using all kinds of colorful adjectives to describe my frustrations and anger toward the person whose dark side has emerged.
However, I put my negative tirade on a short leash, because I know better than to allow myself to go on for too long about it in my mind. The negativity can be consuming, and it leads us to become a mirror of the evil we say we despise.
When I have quieted my irate mind down, I take time to consider the other person’s perspective.
Why did he or she lie about me? What caused him or her to go behind my back, steal my stereo, not send a promised invitation, throw a colleague under the bus, not report a crime?
Many times, rather than blaming the person for any ill-intent, I consider more positive possibilities such as a colleague not doing his or her job because of an emergency situation, or an unexpected addition to his or her work-load.
Too often, I have noticed myself and others judging others based on our personal expectations, and what we consider reasonable “reasons” for doing or not doing something. This can lead to many assumptions that result in ill-feelings towards the person who has failed to meet our expectations.
In addition, I have noticed that we humans often adhere to different rules and reject other rules. While I may stop at a stop sign in the middle of the country with no other car in sight, another person will determine that stopping is unnecessary, because the sign is meant to prevent cars from colliding.
When there is only one vehicle present, there is unlikely to be a collision if that one vehicle does not stop.
I often imagine, if caught in an episode of the Twilight Zone, and I was alone, would I follow all the rules just to get a sense of normality — a connection with the past when people were everywhere, picking and choosing which laws and rules to follow and which ones to break?
When we talk about evil-doers, we talk about people who break even bigger laws — laws that protect our lives and well-being — and not just man-made laws, but the unspoken laws of nature, like respecting other living creatures and caring for water sources and land so that we can continue to yield sustenance upon which we — all living creatures — depend for life.
My understanding of evil was shaped by a Catholic/Methodist upbringing in a predominantly Christian society. Good and evil battled it out with Jesus and the Devil coaching us and God refereeing.
As I have come to better understand humanity, my understanding of evil has changed, and while I dislike using the word to describe people, I can see how each of us is capable of great evils in the right (or wrong) circumstances.
Even in those circumstances, we still have the choice to “do the right thing,” but I believe people are prone to do the safest thing in order to survive in one moment and live in the next.
Risk-takers and other more ambitious people are the ones who press forward with a reckless abandon, willing to risk it all for a victory — even if that victory ends up being one moment in time. Some of these people will follow all the rules and still win.
Most, it seems, will paint a pretty picture, behind which they sit with the likes of Dorian Gray, their true nature hidden by the lovely facade.
The old adage that the path to hell is paved with good intentions resonates in my mind too, because so many people start out with good intentions, but follow the paths of least resistance when they have become exhausted traveling the righteous path.
Does the ends justify the means? I do not think so. I think with practice, like everything else, doing the right thing gets easier in some ways. Being good can be boring at times, but it leads to much less stress than making choices that destroy self and others.
I am beginning to see evil as an innate human characteristic that if fed will grow. It can start with a dirty look, a lie or a punch. It can end with regret, humiliation, mental and emotional agony and death.
Evil is not new. People today are not suddenly more evil than they were in the middle ages.
Civilized people are no less evil than “uncivilized people” if there is even such a category of people that ever existed.
No one ethnic group, racial or religious group is more capable of evil than another. We are all capable of being evil. We are also all capable of being good.
Should the judgment of our character rest rest on our souls or on our actions?
I think our actions, because the consequences of our actions can scar our souls, and therein lies the punishment with which we must live — in addition to the consequences we face when we are held to account for our evil words and actions by the communities in which we reside.