Sometimes, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. My brain takes me to some pretty absurd places and when someone else’s brain gets involved the resulting train of absurdity can be a bit breathtaking. Still, sometimes absurdity is the finest teacher, and the crazy pills bring us to the brink of sanity. Perhaps one day I will take the plunge and go over the edge of sanity, but right now the insanity is just too much fun.
I had such a period yesterday. A conversation grew out of yesterday’s blog entry and centered around the word “evil” and whether we should apply it to people as well as to actions. Generally, I find this to be an unhelpful practice, for reasons to be discussed shortly, but my opposite in the conversation (who also happens to be my brother in the flesh!) took my resistance to applying the term evil to it’s logical extreme and pulled some of the great villains of history out of the shadows and asked if they were evil. Well-played, brother!
If I had exercised wisdom, I would have kindly steered the conversation back into the present and the kinds of conversations and personal interactions I had in mind in the original post. If I had exercised wisdom. But what fun is wisdom when one’s argument is at stake? Especially if the argument is with one’s brother? So I saw his absurdity, raised it a tad, AND got to play defense attorney of a sort for some highly disreputable characters in the bargain! Hello crazy pills! You can witness the conversation on Facebook should you desire, but you will have to befriend one or the other of us first. If you do, bring your own bottle of crazy pills. I am stingy with mine.
Ok–that was yesterday. What of today? What if I am discussing something controversial and my opponent holds a position I deem immoral? Why not just call a spade a spade and tell him his position is “evil”? And, since he holds an evil position why not take the next step and tell him that since his position is evil he must be too? First, because such an action is unlikely to have the desired result. Using a word like “evil” as a descriptor of the person personalizes the conflict and deepens it. Instead of jolting him out of his position it is more likely to harden him in it. It’s the nature of human ego. How many of us have clearly been wrong in a discussion with a friend or spouse but stayed entrenched in our position or course because our dander was up? So the practical effect of calling those who differ “evil” is not to lessen evil but to increase it. If we want more love and light and gentleness and kindness in the world it is best to practice it ourselves.
A second reason I find it unhelpful to call others evil even when I believe their positions or actions are is the effect that such wording tends to have in me. It’s just very hard not to inflate oneself slightly (or immensely) when we compare ourselves to others. Even when I admit my own misdeeds and failings, I will tend to diminish them just a bit in comparison to the misdeeds of others. The subconscious reasoning goes something like this–”I may not be as gentle as I need to be, but at least I don’t hit folks.” Or, if I do hit folks, at least I don’t kill them. Or maybe I have killed someone, but at least I haven’t killed ten, or a hundred, or a million. In other words, labeling other people as evil often leads toward a minimizing of my own evil, which is the only evil I can directly diminish. But when I minimize something in myself I am less likely to actively work on it. Thus, again, the practical effect of such labeling is not the lessening of evil but the increase of it.
Ok–but what about those great villains of history? Surely, looking at the fruit of their evil endeavors it’s fine to actually say “Hitler was evil” or “Stalin was evil”. Perhaps it is ok. Perhaps they were evil. All I know is this. We all seem to be wounded in this world, and most of us tend to act out of that wounding at times. When we act out of our wounds we in turn wound others and contribute to the greater suffering of the world. Some of us do so only a little. Some of us unleash almost untold suffering. Those horrific villains of history surely did. They were the agency of great evil and all the pain and misery that comes with it. But I know not what separates their great evil from my or your lesser evil. Somehow I doubt it is our perceived virtue. So I’ll leave the labeling to the One which is the source of all, since the One is the only one that can know.
I hope you enjoyed the crazy pills.