Is any human evil?

Let’s quit using the word evil as a reference to Republicans, Democrats, corporate executives, organizations, homosexuals, law makers, and whatever or whomever else we don’t understand – or agree with. Here’s why.

People aren’t evil. I know we like to personify evil, but really. People aren’t evil.  Broken, mislead, confused, mean, miserable, sinful, anxious, ill, power hungry, even crazy, YES. But, people are not evil. I just don’t believe it.

As Sister Helen Prejean, the nun behind Dead Man Walking says, “No one is as bad as their worst day.”

I know what you are thinking. What about Hitler? What about people who burn up their own children in a fire? (See the horrid Seattle news of late if you wonder why this reference comes up.) What about Saddam Hussein? We all have our list.

These people are sick and deluded, and their actions may have horrible results, but that does not make them evil. Don’t get me wrong. I am no fan of dictators, demagogues, and Republicans in general, but it is not my place to label them as evil. How we view and speak about others says so much about us. Sometimes we start to believe the hyperbolic statements we throw out. Worse yet, someone else does.

How we label people different from us is important. Even people we see as our enemies. Maybe I have lived a sheltered life, but I don’t think so. Sure there was that farming family stuff I write about, but let’s just say,  I lived in a gang neighborhood where gun shots went off daily. I worked at a homeless shelter. Just sayin. People weren’t evil. Confused, products of their environment, really hurting, but not bad people. Sure, I wouldn’t want my daughter to bring some of them home, but they weren’t evil.

Sometimes I think something in our psyche needs people to be evil or bad people. I made an effort never to call my kids bad. Why? Because they weren’t bad. Even when they did things that made me cringe or feel outraged, I knew they were not evil. And I don’t feel like I need someone to be evil so that I can have the perfect contrast to goodness. Or feel self-justified. I will feel that anyway.

I am not saying there is not good and bad, worse and worser, right and wrong, etc. But evil to me implies irredeemable. And I just don’t buy that.

People go to the electric chair every month on this judgment. I just don’t think we can decide that. So for the love of God, and for a peaceful future, let’s quit demonizing everything we don’t understand or agree with.

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6 Responses to Is any human evil?

  1. Anna S says:

    I think if we can label someone else as evil then we don’t have to feel any compassion or extend any kindness, or show any mercy. They are evil. They deserve every ill thing that’s coming to them. More importantly, I don’t have to deal with the confusion about who they really are as complex, messed-up people. If they are ALL bad, then I can write them off and walk away (if I’m lucky) or at least I can discredit everything about them, and everything they do. However, if someone is behaving with such vile ruthlessness, and yet we realize that they are complex people as you describe, then we must show mercy, and at least try to open our hearts to compassion and kindness toward them. No, I don’t think there should be no system of punishment, but that even within that system we must individually and culturally recognize the humanity within each and every one … On a less severe scale, there are times when I start to label someone as “mean” or that they intended to hurt me, and therefore I will disbelieve much of my prior experience of them as kind or thoughtful. When I get in this “either they are mean, or they are kind” mindframe, it’s really hurtful – to myself! When I start to realize, and gradually embrace that this person is complex and imperfect, they are hurtful some times, and kind at other times because of the wounds they sustained in life, then I can show compassion again, and release myself from the poison of my own anger. Sometimes I have to protect myself when they are hurtful again, but it does not devolve into the same pit of judgment. This is still a lesson in progress! and I have a glimmering hypothesis that when I can remain compassionate to this person, they may feel it too – and not lash out in such hurtful ways.

    • shannonbeck2 says:

      So thoughtful, Anna. I agree. The small scale is probably more hurtful to us in some ways. We dismiss people who could have something to teach us or offer us. And they know it. It doesn’t work well. When we demonize – say – a political figure (which I have done in my gut big time sometimes), I get snarky and pass it off as humor. That is just as unhelpful to me and them. It is my “softer” way to dismiss or demonize them. It takes such intention, doesn’t it? Thanks for your good words.

  2. Michael Grimes says:

    Excellent! I couldn’t agree more. I am about to go to bed and am playing hooky from an important rehearsal, but just wanted to give “ye olde thumbs up”!

  3. Wow, that was a great post. Really thought-provoking. I think of actions as evil or good. To me, evil is a real choice, as is good. My two cents.

  4. Spend some time with a psychopath and see if that changes your perspective. Unfortunately…some people are just bad and they are out to get whatever they want no matter what the cost. Sure actual psychopaths are rare…but they’re out there. And even if someone isn’t a psychopath and is just hurt, misguided, etc….there is a limit to what you can do to help them. I spent years making excuses for people who constantly hurt me and showing them compassion and forgiveness and trying to help them…but I’m not going to spend the rest of my life suffering and being mistreated by other people just because they have issues that explain why they are so messed up. I do agree you can learn things from some of these people…but the most important thing you can learn from them is how to identify and avoid them so they don’t continue to hurt you.

    • shannonbeck2 says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Michelle. It takes a lot of courage and strength to identify the cause of our suffering – and to say, “no more!” It sounds like you have had at least one situation in your life where people have taken advantage of you. Me too. Long story. For me, and this may be different for you, I am learning that I don’t need to vilify them in order to make myself feel self-satisfied. I hope it isn’t making excuses for them to not call them evil (any I haven’t spent time with a psychopath, just a couple of sociopaths). My point in that post was really that I don’t have to call them evil – and with the political campaigns coming out, I am already tired of it. Could there be a point where I would? God knows I have (sorry George W). But I don’t want to anymore. I suppose I am still recovering a bit from this concept of “original sin”. That is part of my journey. Thank God you are out from under the control of a psychopath. I am relieved for you. If you don’t mind, I’ll be holding you — and others like you in the light for a few moments tonight. And applauding your very difficult work – and those who no doubt have given you a lot of love. Peace.

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