Good and evil are concepts I have wrestled with for a very long time. All my life, probably.
Even as a youngster I found myself attracted to some of the darker characters in fiction. At the same time I was trying to like, or at least understand, those that repulsed me. No one, I felt, was born innately evil. People, real or in fiction, had to have a history, their decisions and behavior had to originate in some earlier experience.
Like many living in the West, my thinking was influenced by Christianity in one of its many versions for quite some time. In this tradition the idea that good eventually triumphs over evil lives a strong life. While I am ever striving towards more harmony and healing myself, I have come to be wary of this typical dichotomy that says one half of the spectrum is an enemy not merely to be respected and withstood, but annihilated completely.
I fear this is one of our greatest misunderstandings.
Don’t get me wrong. This is no advocacy post for violence or hatred, for loveless parents, cruel teachers, remorseless dictators or warped characters of any kind. I do believe we are better off happy and healthy, respecting and loving each other and ourselves.
Only we believe we have to kill and destroy certain things in order to get there.
Years ago my mother followed a course in personal development that taught her a great deal. Although I did not follow that particular course myself, I did benefit from the notions and ideas she took home and shared with us. One of them was the concept of the Judge.
We all know him. Some might call him the Inner Critic, others might think of him (or her) as a parent, an old teacher, a frightened or angry part of themselves. It’s that little nagging voice inside our heads that criticizes us and chides us for not being good enough, brave enough, strong enough, pretty enough, according to god-knows-whose standards.
Mom’s teacher told her to ‘kill the f*cking Judge’. While he was right about the fact that listening to that inner chatter and believing what it tells us is utterly unhelpful and invariably makes us miserable, in our family we abandoned his line of reasoning after a while. Instead, mom switched to an alternative approach regarding her Judge. She got herself a cute little cushion. She put it on dispay in the living room like a decoration, in a place where you could by no means mistake it for something to sit on. This was the place where her Judge could relax and take break, everytime he made his appearance. Instead of trying to forcefully kill him, she allowed him a reprieve and told him to make himself comfortable.
I love that second approach. Regardless of how easy (or hard) facing our fears, faults and inner demons turns out to be, I can testify that treating them with kindness is a much deeper and far more gratifying journey than attempting to kill them. They are part of us, and often they even helped us in some way, by protecting us, or warning us, or making us think twice. Sometimes they just appeared without really meaning to be the pests they are. Sometimes we stuffed them away because we didn’t want to look at them, and in the dark they fed on all they could find and grew big, angry and scary, but somehow still hungry for our love and understanding.
You don’t heal yourself by killing the parts of yourself you don’t like. You heal yourself by taking a good look at them for what they are and treating them with kindness.
The same goes for every kind of struggle between between so-called Good and Evil. There’s no discussion about the fact that some thoughts or deeds are ethically more sound or healthy than others. There’s no denying the fact that some acts are morally despicable and inflict suffering. But by treating them like something that needs to be eradicated and killed, we are only strengthening their defenses. We are turning ourselves into the loveless, heartless, unforgiving version of ourselves if we hold on to our mission of destroying them. Instead, we should start looking for a cushion.
And when our fears and failures, our hidden and ugly aspects and all those things we don’t like about ourselves or the world come and sit there, because we invite them to do so and they feel we can be trusted, we should have the courage to look them in the eye and start a conversation.