When we encounter someone who is evil, we usually react with fear. We do not understand them and want to run away. They are monsters to us, and we feel powerless. If we want to shrink these monsters, we must begin the process of uncovering how they came to be as they are.
These monsters are human beings who committed themselves to the pursuit of power and pleasure. Yet the way that pursuit begins—the way they embarked on the road to evil—is not what most people suspect. And we need to be clear about how evil begins, because we all have it within us.
The road to evil starts when someone commits to believing, without question, that they are inherently good. Once that is done, they begin to believe, again without question, that whatever they desire, whatever gives them pleasure, is necessarily good. They are then repulsed by anything or anyone that impinges on the fulfillment of their desires or challenges their sense of goodness. Finally, they fear the death of their chosen identity so much that they completely refuse to surrender to anything. This fear also manifests as fear of others, and therefore rage at others.
As a result, there is no negotiating with evil. Its commitment to itself is absolute. How then, can we put evil out of its misery? By confronting evil with Love. And by Love I mean what is left when we give up our attachment to anything less than God. Only through Love can we have clarity of sight and action in the face of evil. Love always takes the form appropriate to a situation; if necessary, it may even take the form of a bullet, sent from a place of complete nonattachment.
Once we understand how someone chose to become evil, we can bring that person back down to human scale. Their monstrosity has been diminished, because we know it is simply the result of a series of disastrous choices, all of which we could have made. Now we can discern how to act in a manner that will make us, and others, safe.
Real safety arises from Love. When we come from the place of Love, we support who others truly are and act in everyone’s best interest, including our own. Everyone is then free from fear physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, and encouraged to grow into Love and happiness. People are then free to make mistakes, and so are we. It is so much easier to be complacent; we must be brave enough to be safe.
We should not be fooled by delusions of safety. One of these is appeasement: “If we give him what he asks, we will be safe.” We have to know whom we are playing with. When someone is evil, we are never safe. Do not think such people will be reasonable or keep their word.
|Appease / Placate||Resist / Stand up to|
|Soothe / Pacify||Incite / Enrage|
Evil fools us by calling something safe when in fact it is dangerous. “Trust me,” it says, “everything will be fine”. These and similar phrases set us up both internally and in the world at large. We are at risk because we do not know it is not safe.
On a camping trip many years ago, my son Aaron wanted to light the campfire, but the wood was wet. His abusive biological father poured extremely flammable white gas liberally over the wood and, in spite of our objections, encouraged Aaron to touch a match to the pile. “Just trust me,” he said. But he moved back several feet as Aaron went to touch a match to an exposed corner of newspaper. When the match reached the paper, Aaron was instantly engulfed in a fireball. My older son Ian and I rushed to rescue Aaron. His biological father remained indifferent, and dismissively shouted, “He’s fine”. This was a classic example of evil creating danger, pretending it didn’t exist.
When such an “accident” happens, evil slips out the back door, leaving a trail of excuses: “I did not know”, or “It was not my intention”. This is the way the evil person weasels out of accountability. Evil people are selectively competent. If you are actually competent, you can’t use those excuses; you have to own what you have done and why you did it.
Evil doesn’t stop at creating dangerous situations; it takes pleasure in destroying hope. This pleasure often takes the form of offering hope and then crushing it. Evil has the ability to uncover the seed of hope in any person and kill it.
(encouraged, sense of possibility)
(can’t win, can’t move)
(blind, unwilling to face facts)
(realistic, seeing straight)
But real hope is not so easily destroyed. Real hope is clearsighted; it doesn’t beguile itself. As Vaclav Havel has said, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out”. Real hope is a virtue because it is a step on the path to Love, which makes all things clear and safe.
No one is more dangerous than someone who is wholly convinced of his own goodness—so committed to that identity that he will seek to destroy anyone or anything that rebukes it, and he will create hazardous situations wherever he goes. So all of us must let go of “goodness,” and purify our character by surrendering to Love. Love ruins the “goodness” that is the real root of evil.
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