The Elusive Evil Ones

Conal, his mom Ann, and I had a stimulating discussion last evening about spirituality, war, the impact of affluence, violence, carpeting, what to call our work, and about a hundred other topics. While we were talking about the new dimensions of political folly with regard to Iran, Conal remembered one of his favorite quotes:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? ~Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Having enemies makes things simple. You find them. You kill them. You live happily ever after. Problem is, war, assassination, and violence have never, ever worked to nurture lasting peace. We keep acting as if we can just find all the enemies and eliminate them, then all will be well. Sh’yeah. As if.

Let’s imagine the US dropped hundreds of nukes across the entire Middle East, Arabian peninsula, and every nation whose name ends in ~stan. Completely obliterated all of those cultures and their governments. In our little murderous fantasy, we’ll assume we magically did not ruin the planet’s environment with nuclear fallout, and we’ll also assume that none of the other surviving nations banded together to come kick our ass afterwards. Even with all these silly assumptions, the world would not become a safe, happy place. Even if we killed off EVERY other annoying country on earth, and assuming even further that we did not self-destruct afterward with the guilt of our horrifying actions, the same problems, violence, and unrest would continue to tear us apart. The evil ones would just bear new faces and new names.

There are no bad guys, factions, or groups whose elimination will miraculously foster peace. There is just us: human beings–you, me, the Taliban leaders, President Bush–who make choices, day in and day out, that are either healing and helpful or are destructive and hurtful. When I make a choice that is destructive, it’s because it’s the only way I know to meet my needs. Killing me will not help matters, but will only serve to inspire more violence. Someone else will step up to take my place who will most likely make similar choices or some you will like even less. When I make a destructive, hurtful choice, I probably don’t think I have a choice at all. I need help to find a choice that better serves all needs, including my own. I need compassion and support in reconnecting to my own humanity, and very likely some humane protective measures to prevent me from hurting anyone else or myself in the meantime. I need support in easing the grinding pain and poverty or other systemic issues that compel me to my destructive choice in the first place, and that will compel those who come after me whether you manage to eliminate me or not.

No human being has ever been perfect, altruistic, generous, kind, and loving 100% of the time. No human being ever will. Few humans will ever be perfect, altruistic, generous, kind, and loving even most of the time. We all are walking dualities of “good” and “evil.” We have conflict. We get mad. Our emotions flood our nervous systems with crazy juice when we are triggered and we do wacky, dumb, hurtful things. We need a way through conflict that doesn’t involve killing and punishment. The way through is not in wasting energy trying to create a Utopia, which can only fail, or by trying to hunt down some elusive evil ones. The way through lies in creating a way of being, thinking, and interacting that works for people just as they are in all their petty, mean, generous, selfish, loving, hurtful, and healing moments. Rather than seeking out the “evil ones” in order to destroy them, the way through is in seeking the humanity in every person, no matter how hurtful their acts, and working to discover what they yearn for at the heart of their choices that serves life, and collaborating with that yearning.


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