Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good and Evil

"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing"
Edmund Burke.

Evil came into my life early in the form of a child molester who abused me for 9 years. I experienced first hand the truth of the statement by Edmund Burke. In the nine years I was abused I'm sure some people must have seen something strange going on with me. I have no memory of anyone ever acting on my behalf thought. Instead, I was scolded for the way I acted out, told I was lazy and a rebellious teen.

In coming to terms with the experience of evil so early in life, I've thought a lot about good and evil. It has made me very aware that I have a choice, at any moment, to commit evil (by act or ommision) or good. I learned the truth of Alexandre Soltjzenitzyn's statement:

"The line between good and evil runs through the heart of every human being"

It's a moral choice whether you do good deeds or evil deeds.

Conformity experiment
That moral choice isn't as easy to make as it might seem: most of us are easily influenced by peer pressure. In the famous Asch experiment of conformity a full 75% of the people tested at least once gave a wrong answer when everyone around them gave the wrong answer. The question was: which of these lines on the right is of equal length to the one left, A B or C? Not hard to answer that one is it? In fact, without peer pressure only 1 person out of 35 tested ever got it wrong. When everyone around them gave the wrong answer however, 75% failed to give the right answer.

What's true for factual matters is probably double true for matters dealing with right and wrong. Given a situation where you perceive yourself to have no choices, where someone in authority is taking responsibility for your actions, and peer pressure to conform is high, you too might commit attrocities, like them poor soldiers in Abu Grahib. There but for the grace of God go I. An inconvenient truth? Yes. Can we escape it? Maybe.

In no way do I excuse people for the evil deeds they commit, I solidly believe in personal responsibility. However I also believe that there is no such thing as an evil person. Every one of us has a potential for good AND evil. Circumstances may call forth one or the other. The only thing we have to assist us in doing good is making a moral choice.

The hero's choice
A very simple example is littering. Interesting study done about that shows that when a street is very clean you don't normally litter, although about 10% of the people do anyway. If the street is very dirty, 90% of the same people just add to the mess. You have a moral choice:
  • You can put your own litter in the appropriate bin.
  • You can drop your litter as you go.
Then there is also the hero's choice:
  • Clean your entire street of litter and engage in a community program to keep it clean.
What we need in order to escape from the risk of us becoming the very monsters we fear, is everyday heroism. We need to celebrate the everyday hero that helps an old lady with her groceries. The hero that helps you pick up your papers when you drop them. The kind of hero that doesn't stand idly by when something bad happens, but goes into action when it counts. Every day we have a chance to be the hero that we are. All we have to do is be on the lookout for it.

So ask yourself at the end of every day:
"Did I have a chance to be somebody's hero today? Did I grab the chance?"

1 comment:

  1. Wauw, again written very beautiful!
    I'm inspired by being anyone's hero today!
    I'l let you know.