What is evil? It’s the opposite of “live,” literally. The English language is uniquely“coded,” with many words having at least two meanings, often ironically similar/different. For instance, the word “responsibility” means being personally accountable, but it also breaks down into “the ability to respond.” Here’s another powerful clue as we seek to expose and dissipate the spell that evil has cast over our personal lives and the world we inhabit.
French author Charles Baudelaire wrote “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” M. Scott Peck, well known author of The Road Less Travelled, didn’t believe in the devil until he encountered evil in family counselling work to such an extent that he changed his mind. He discussed evil in his next book People of the Lie and described it as “a malignant type of self-righteousness in which there is an active rather than passive refusal to tolerate imperfection (sin) and its consequent guilt. This syndrome results in a projection of evil onto selected specific innocent victims (often children)…”
Peck offers provocative insights here, especially by defining evil as a “refusal to tolerate imperfection.” He elaborated: “They see others as playthings or tools to be manipulated for their own uses or entertainment.” This explains why evil people are incapable of having empathy for others.
Our bold topic today discusses how to deal with evil in an effective way, not something we will exhaustively cover in these handful of words! But, I will propose a novel approach, based on this assessment from Peck: “Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves, but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection, or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on others.”
I doubt that anyone interested in what I write is evil, but we all have evil in us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right throughevery human heart -- and through all human hearts.”
Don’t you feel self-righteous at times, morally superior to others? Don’t you project evil onto others? I do and, if you’re honest, you can admit that you do too. But we are not evil because we do undertake introspection, painful as that maybe when we encounter our own imperfections.
So, step one is to acknowledge that evil is not just “out there” in others; it lives within us all. Step two is to expand our empathy zone to include those who are actively evil, those Peck describes as “malignant narcissists.” But how can we forgive those who perpetrate the worst human atrocities, the Hitler’s, the Rasputin’s, the Charles Manson’s of the world? And might that forgiveness inadvertently empower evil by refusing to hold it/them fully accountable?
As I contemplated this question, I recalled Christ’s last words, spoken from the cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” He understood that his tormentors were incapable of facing their evil. He did not judge them. He didn’t demand any change on their part; in fact, he asked God to forgive them just as they were.
Years ago, the Rumi scholar Andrew Harvey told me something a powerful CEO said: “The problem with you liberals is that you think evil people like me just need to realize how we are hurting others and destroying the world and then we’ll change. We know! We know but we don’t care!”
At first glance, this seems to contradict Christ’s comment. But what do “they” know and what do they not know? Rapacious macho leaders may be aware of the damage they are causing (and not care), but they are hiding from deeper implications, the soul consequences and karmic repercussions of their actions, personally and globally. If they really knew, I wonder, would that make a difference? And how might they come to that deeper knowing?
Ancient Hawaiians created a reconciliation process called ho’oponopono.This is a detailed protocol that deserves deep study but the simple applicationI recommend for dealing with evil is to face someone we feel morally superior to, someone we have judged as evil, and forgive them. The four statements from the ho’oponopono ritual that we can use are: “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.”
You might protest,“ Shouldn’t they be saying this?” They can’t. They are incapable of introspection and personal truth telling. Exposing and explaining their sins with the hope that they will then confess and change hasn’t worked for centuries and it never will. Evil continues to thrive. So, we intercede on their behalf. Think of it this way: If someone is living in darkness and can’t see what’s present, is it better to try and explain what they can’t see or just turn on a light so they can see for themselves? We can be that light!
Evil is the opposite of“live.” Peck proposed that every person lives at a crossroads between the way of life and the way of evil. One path includes God, that is, we live as part of a loving, intelligent network of life. The other denies God by championing “free will,” independent of any guidance other than our own cleverness and ambition, based on our assumed superiority over others.
So, what is our developed “ability to respond” to the call from each of these paths? We can choose to live and to actively forgive evil, or we can re-broadcast its destructive arrogance.
What might choosing life accomplish? Here’s a provocative possibility. Game of Thrones fans will remember when Arya killed the Night King. Instantly, his entire zombie army disintegrated. I wonder, could a sustained concentration of unjudging forgiveness destroy the evil that infects not just a handful of obvious “evil people” but all who have fallen under the spell of that dark path?
We can be the light or we can be the judge, choose your way!