Of Goodness and Evil

The past week has brought the hope and celebration of a new year … and a showing of anger, narcissism, psychopathy, and hatred.  We have seen it in war, in racism, in other ways, but not in this country in this way.  As such it has left me a little uncertain how to write a blog for the new year and yet address the fears and anger and profound sadness with which this year has started given the events of January 6. 

I found myself rereading “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck.  He writes of the fact that we must be careful if we call another evil, for we also can go that way.  And, in fact, those who are evil will always call the other evil.  Think of the partner who treats their partner with blame, abuse, and a sick form of love; yet believes their lies that the partner truly is the one who is sick.  Or someone who tells an individual that they are “lazy” when they know that they have a learning disability or other “hidden” disability that may simply mean slow processing or difficulty learning or doing one’s job.  One may seem worse, i.e.:  the abusive spouse over the parent, teacher, sister, or friend who calls someone “lazy”; yet both can hurt the other party.  In “Dare to Lead” Brene Brown would call this time in America, or with family, or friends, or employees a time to be being willing to have ‘tough conversations” with a whole heart. My greater desire is to find a way to help you find hope and healing, not to cause pain or offense, or affront anyone.  As I found myself reviewing the writing of the psychology of evil by Peck I was reminded of his words, “The problem of evil, for instance, can hardly be separated from the problem of goodness.  Were there no goodness in the world, we would not even be considering the problem of evil” (p. 41).  And so, I am trying to point out the way we can each move toward the goodness in life.  We must remain aware of what is going on in the world and at home, and make choices much as those I am reviewing below for our own personal growth.   

January 1 is World Day of Peace each year.  Interestingly, I didn’t see a notice of this other than one brief one.  That may have been due to a holiday weekend and busy weeks leading up to it.  But I ran across a blog that addressed it, and the comments made by Pope Francis in it that are even more pertinent today, the 9th. “These and other events that marked humanity’s path this past year have taught us how important it is care for one another and creation in efforts to build a more fraternal society”.  Peck agrees that love and goodness allow us to see the evil.  And that the first step is to see it and call it for what it is.  Brene would say we must live our values, be what we believe, and bravely live into trust with others and speak truth – but with empathy.  Essentially Peck says the same.  And in doing so, we must look at both the evil (or less than healthy) in ourselves and then, with compassion, speak our truth to a trusted friend or counselor, face it, and bravely work to change it. 

As an example, it’s been a very busy week and I’ve had to deal with multiple needs of others and not had time to deal with everything that was hitting my phone, email, and texts.  In trying to keep up I didn’t get a text answered that could have caused less anxiety for one person; I skimmed a few emails from a committee and likely hurt someone on that committee; and I’ve neglected Finley (ok, so he probably took the least of the toll; but I took him to daycare to play on Friday to make up for my lack of attention and he came back exhausted and is now zonked out).  But I’ve had to go back and apologize to both people with whom I could have responded better and not caused the concerns that came up.  Did I do it from a place of evil?  No, but I did need to correct and be kind to them and trust that I can apologize and move forward.  That’s what is meant by living what we believe, then speaking with compassion in seeking to change what my act of moving too fast did to others.  Those are fairly easy things to repair.  And yet they take time and thought and self-awareness.

What about the bigger concerns?  What about a person who might be hurting a loved one of ours?  It might be a boss hurting a friend, a child’s mental health hurting a parent, a minister hurting a group within a church, or even an animal killing other animals.  While we might be able to explain each situation, there is pain, and a part of evilness, and a piece of unrest we experience in these situations.  I ran into this in the first clinical situation I ever was involved in professionally.  I was at a children’s center and was told to work with a child who had already shown a great deal of disregard for others or for human life.  I remember thinking, “what in the world do I do here?  I’m not equipped!” So, I read a lot about children like him, adults like him, spoke with some experts in town, and a couple out of town.  In the end, what mattered most to me was helping his mother, in a small a way, begin to see him and recognize him for all of who he was.  My goal became, through family therapy, to give her a tiny bit of understanding and help her to find some remnant of a human child who was good but terribly hurt by others to the point he was striking out so forcefully against all.  That came from, as Brene says, brave work and tough conversations with the mom, as well as loving hard – with courage.  Did I help the child?  Frankly, I do not think I had the ability or experience or tools with which to effectively help him.  For that I believe, even today, that he needed much more than I could offer at the time; thus, my decision to focus on the family.  

What can we each do at this time?  Rather than ignoring it, or hoping all will go away, we can take a couple of steps toward getting through a difficult time. 

  • Name what it is that causing you the most difficulty internally.  Simply stating it, writing it down, acknowledging it, is a step toward dealing with the difficulty we are facing.  Is it fear?  Is it confusion?  Is it just dealing with life in front of us every day while we try to get our heads and hearts around what happened Wednesday or news we received from a friend?    
  • Then, take some time to be vulnerable and share with another person.  Talk with a friend, email your child’s teacher for help, talk to a mentor about what’s happening in the world and what you are feeling.  Pray about the friend going through a divorce.  Write or talk to those you fear you’ve hurt – say you’re sorry or ask for forgiveness.  If it’s about the unrest here in the USA, find someone you can talk with who will not incite more unrest, but help you put a plan in place that helps you. 
  • Decide if there is something you need to do about the situation.  During one situation this week my choice was to take time to make a gift bag for a friend.  I realized what I needed was to do something, not just ruminate on the issue.  So, I took an hour to pull together what I wanted to offer her to surround herself with through the coming days and months. 
  • Finally, nurture yourself.  Take some quiet time with your spouse and just settle in for time to cuddle.  Watch a movie if you’re exhausted and on empty.  Pull your puppy in for hugs and lap pets. 

The last thing I would also recommend is that you spend more time in a way to engage your spiritual self.  For one person that is prayer or a music service.  For another it is contemplative prayer.  For still another it is taking a meditative walk and really looking at what is going on around you.  One person I know reconnects with what is happening in the world and his life overall to gain perspective using levels of consciousness as a focus.  Or, for still another reading something uplifting or writing a gratitude list.  Whatever it is – I strongly urge you to open that part of your life up more widely.    

This year, 2021, will have challenges as every year does. Some of the next days may bring more difficulty, or it may ease in other ways.  And yet we can live our lives consciously and from a place of love and connection with others.  Focus more on the love than the evil, and you will find the days easier to handle.  We will make it through these days and times.  Only a day at a time.  Only a moment.  And yet, as a very good friend reminded me at one point in the last 2 weeks, “All will be well”.  I’ll end again with the prayer of St. Julian of Norwich (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT0P5aE2IBg for a beautiful song of this). 

All shall be well.

And all shall be well.

And all manner of thing shall be well.

For there is a Force of Love moving through the universe,

That holds us fast

And will never let us go.

~St. Julian of Norwich

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