How does evil manifest itself in the world? We know that evil, like the yin to the yang of good, is always present. Just as we can’t divorce order from chaos, suffering from growth, and pain from love, we can’t divorce evil from its place in our world. But why, would be the question? Why are we unable to separate evil, and the physical manifestations of evil, from the everyday parallels of our lives?
This has been a question that has plagued me for a long time now. I struggle to believe that the overwhelming majority of acts committed that are evil (or even lean towards evil on the scale) are done for the pure intention of being mal-adaptive to the world. Now, while a small fraction of people may commit evil acts purposefully (which is a conversation for a different time), it seems as though the majority of manifestations of darkness come from a place of either ignorance, or good intent.
Why do people make evil choices? Before I begin, let's clarify the term evil. By evil, I do not strictly mean the opposite of good. I mean a decision that dampens one’s ability to live meaningfully, and harsens the ability of those around them to live meaningfully. Using that definition, we must take a few angles to judge a behavior. We can judge intent, if the behavior was done to escape responsibility or to aim for expedience over meaning. We can judge outcome, if the behavior was done for what, at the time, seemed just but led down a path of evil. Or we can judge impact, how the behavior impacted those around you.
I think this question plagues my mind because I very often find myself on the fence between good and evil. Maybe this is not an issue that everyone faces, but I seem to be one who has to work very, very hard to control the physical manifestations of evil within me, and often times I fail, miserably. There are times where I am acutely aware of this pattern, so I make conscious decisions that seem just, and I forsake any realm of hell, any possibility of evil that presents itself. But then, before I know it, I look around at flames and demons, and I find myself right in the place I was so intent on avoiding.
When I was younger, I found myself in a realm of chaos so unknown to me, that it seemed as though at every step the ground would fall out from beneath me. Every thought seem to string together a symphony of suffering, and every move seemed to make it worse. I didn’t want to be here, by any means, and I had no tools to get myself out of it. So (before I knew what I was actually doing at the time), I began to focus on just surviving day by day. If I could just make it to my bed as the sun set, then that was a successful day. I picked up a basketball, and headphones. I began trying to volunteer, or donate my time to anything that would make it go away. The days passed, and I survived, successfully. But the flames kept coming, higher and higher, and so with them, my measures of survival had to evolve too. I began taking shortcuts, finding simpler ways to survive the day until nightfall. This included drinking, empty friendships, and maliciously pointed endeavors.
My only goal was to survive, was to make it to the bed at night, so I could live to see another day. The issue is, it seems, that all of the little steps I took I achieve this goal, all of the steps that weren’t evil in and amongst themselves, led me to an evil place. The behaviors I manifested with good intentions, compounded until I myself, was evil. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is how we become evil.
I had a friend once, who, unfortunately, found herself at the middle point in life alone. Some of this was out of her control, such as the death of her father two years prior, but a large portion of this was self-created. She was smart, unlike I’ve ever seen, and she had a way about her where she was the most caring and humorous person she could be, while also feeling completely nothing inside. It was a paradox, so I studied her. The world gave her an unfair hand, where dragons manifested early in her life. Since then, she seemed to live in a way that would prevent the onset of any new possible dragons. She married young, for company over love, and found this habit continuing through the point where our paths crossed. Life is suffering, and she seemed to understand it fully, so she did what she felt she had to do to ease that suffering. She built large emotional walls, and never shared who she was with anyone. She found solace in the easing of her mind, through whatever substance. She took baby step by baby step of guarding herself from the cruelties of life, until she was 55, alone in the back room of her house, getting high to try and pass another day.
I don’t think she ever wanted to become this way. She had the best intentions, she just didn’t want to be hurt by the world anymore, so she took what seemed like reasonable steps to prevent that. I had another friend when I was younger who seemed to follow a similar path. He found angst in his world, in the form of a broken family and a shattered form of mental clarity. He just wanted to feel better, to feel normal, like all of the other kids who walk the halls with smiles on their faces. He just wanted everything to go away, everything that plagued him. He didn’t want to walk into a home and have it reek of regret and shame, he didn’t want his eyes to be burned with the images of tears and anger, so he made choices that seemed like good ideas at the time. If the world is cruel, and if it is slowly tearing apart my mind, and I have no power over this reality, then my only option is to ease the capacity at which my mind feels this pain. Little by little we take good intended steps into the darkness. At 16, he was just trying to find a reasonable way to get through, a path that would allow him to get out of pit at which he dwelled. He didn’t mean to become a dishonorable discharge and the youngest person in a rehabilitation center.
This is the issue. We rarely mean to become these evil people that we become. It was little steps meant to make the day better, little steps meant to ease our minds, or relax our stress that compound into ungodly, unforeseen circumstances. We never intend to become the people who make evil decisions. We find ourselves in a place where it seems we feel as though we are making right decision after right decision, only to then look up and see that the seemingly right decision led us down the wrong path.
It isn’t that I make poor decisions (although sometimes I do), it is that I make what at the time seems like a right decision, only I have no idea the potential negative consequences. I feared rejection for the longest time, so I made little daily decisions that seemed to be just, decisions that would keep this fear and I on opposite sides. It seems right to maintain a balanced equilibrium, so I shunned any instance where I had to put myself out there. This was done in very minor ways, such as turning the other way when an encounter presented itself, or denying an opportunity to go to a friendly gathering. Before I knew it though, I let this fear, and my thus my minor decisions compound to become a driving force where now I sometimes find myself on eggshells, like walking on a glass floor where I feel any step will break what semblance of stability there is. I didn’t mean to become the person who second guesses interacts, and re-pieces every word of a conversation together, finding subtle indifferences and minor slights. I didn’t mean to become a person who hesitates to be themselves for fear of consequence, I had the best intentions.
I always had the best intentions. Normally, we do. We understand that in order to trust, in order to love, there will be hurt. “Love anything that lives, and it will die. Trust anybody, and you may be hurt; depend on anyone and one may let you down. The price of meaning is pain.” (Dr. M Scott Peck- The Road Less Traveled). We just, it seems, aim to eradicate the pain, at what then seems to be the consequence of eradicating the meaning as well. To avoid pain, we set ourselves up where we will never depend on anyone, never allow ourselves to trust (because, as well all know, sometimes the pain of the fall is greater than the joy of the rise). We take minor steps, little by little in the direction of safety, or survival, until, before we know it, we find ourselves second guessing anything anyone says, questioning whether anyone here really likes us, or if they are just putting on a front.
We don’t mean to become evil, we don’t mean to become jaded, or empty, or broken, we do it by righteous, minor actions. We take drugs to destress, because it feels good and seems right. Then we can’t sleep without getting high. We have a beer with dinner because it relaxes us, but then we are on our 15th drink that week and seem to only like the world when we are buzzed. We hold back sharing our feelings with our loved ones, because it is uncomfortable and sometimes awkward, but then we push them away little by little. We discipline our children, because we want them to behave morally and in a manner that seems just to us, but then overtime they become fearful, resentful and afraid of mistakes. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Now that I find myself at a point where chaos has reemerged in my life, I have once again shrunken down my sight, and chosen to live in “day-tight compartments”. I behave in a manner that allows me to survive one day at a time, without taking on the whole army at once. Being consciously aware of the person I became last time, and being consciously aware of how evil manifests itself, I changed the rules of the game for myself. Instead of just surviving, instead of being solely focused on seeing tomorrow, the question now is: “What can I do to make today as meaningful as possible, that puts me in a position to make tomorrow the same?”. When we find ourselves in chaos, the future is not a possible place. It is terribly difficult to think deeply and philosophically when we have a need to focus on survival chaos day to day. It is impossible to solve life’s deeper issues, when the issue of here and now is a consistent threat.
But, we must understand, if we do what is easy today, if we do only what is necessary to maintain the comfort of our days, to avoid the startling realization that we may have to rethink our lives (Which is what occurs every time we are wrong about someone, or everytime the way that we see the world is proven false), not only will we continue to be this person, the effects will compound until we are worse than we could ever imagine. So how do we fix it? How do we stop this, and become better? How do we defeat evil?
We do the hard things. We trust, even if it kills us. We love, we suffer. We open up and allow the world to see who we are, trusting that they may have the patience and understanding to love us for who we are now, and for who we can be in the future. And, if not, then we face rejection, accepting that it very well may come at any point. We walk, steadfastly and confidently, knowing that if the glass does shatter with this step, and that the fall very well may break part of us, will we overcome. We take the hard path, we refuse to aim for comfort in our days, and instead aim for meaning. We look inside, at the reasons why. As in, why do I feel this way? And we try to fix it. Because what is the alternative? What is our option if we don’t? The cost of meaning in life is pain, and the cost of avoiding pain of evil.