Something to Think About

"I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Friday, March 15, 2013

Examining Evil

I read something recently that saddened me.  A blogger described an incident where her granddaughter came across a tortured, dead animal.  I'd link to her post but it appears that she's taken it down.

Without going into any details about what she saw, I'll just say that her mother quickly took her away from there. The child is young - maybe around 6 or 7 years old.  When she went to visit her grandmother, she told her about what she had seen. The grandmother explained to the child that most people in the world are good but that some people are evil.

My initial thought was that this was a good way to explain it to a young child.  It nags at me, though, because it isn't accurate.  People aren't either good or evil.  The world isn't black and white like that. Additionally, I'm not sure I'd use the term good or evil to describe actions, either, as it is much more complex than that.  I suppose one could call purely selfish actions "evil".  It doesn't seem to work for me, though. Perhaps when people set out with the intention to hurt another person we could call that evil.  I don't know. I contend that the labels just don't work - as much as we'd like them to.  I might consider an action evil while another would disagree.  It's subjective, isn't it?

Of course, we cannot explain any of this to a young child.

I guess there are adults who believe in labeling people as good or evil.  Perhaps they find it easier to slap a label on people and their actions than I do.  I get caught up in thinking about a person's intentions.  Did they mean to hurt another or was it simply a by-product of their behavior? Did they realize what they were doing to someone else or were they oblivious?  How accountable should they be for a result of their actions that was unintentional?  Surely we can't totally excuse people who go through life with blinders on and ignore those around them but... does that make them evil?

Wouldn't it be easier to acknowledge that we all fall into that middle territory between the extremes?  I don't think anyone could be totally evil nor totally good, could they?  Every one of us has the ability to make a decision to do something that hurts others - intentionally - and sometimes we do.  We justify those actions by telling ourselves that it was worth it or that hurting others was unavoidable - and perhaps it was - or that our victim deserved it - and perhaps they did.

We all have done things that we regret or that we later think we shouldn't have done.  I suppose there are inexcusable actions - premeditated murder comes to mind, of course.  Killing a defenseless animal also comes to mind - especially when the manner of doing so causes agony to the animal before they die.

But what do you tell a young child, then, when they come across the results of an action like that?

I guess I think it would be acceptable to tell the child that I just don't know why someone would do something like that - because I don't.  Additionally, it would be alright to describe the actions as a horrible thing to do.  Perhaps that's all that needs to be said.

What do you think?

Image by Crazii1 and found here

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