The Heated State In Which We Live… A Reflection on Good and Evil
GOOD AND EVIL
“A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most.” ― George Bernard Shaw
History serves as a reliable witness to tragedies which put to rest any philosophical or rhetorical back and forth about whether there is in fact good and evil in our world. The impressions left by the presence of these essentially opposite forces throughout the course of our experience are indelibly impressed on our consciousness and on battlefields all over the globe. The substance of those impressions is an unmistakably gruesome mix of the blood, sweat, tears and brutalized flesh of warring factions.
The spilled guts, broken bones, and the haunting screams of mutilated souls deny us any retreat into some specious academic comfort zone regarding this matter. The massacre of innocents will not allow it. The body bags from battlefields near and far containing the remains of our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our neighbors and their children, rankles our convenient stoicism. Those who would resort to their rhetorical acumen to deny the existence of these opposing forces are rudely aroused, and kept awake by the cacophony of war and its foul stench.
The heroes we celebrate in our individual and corporate lives are those who stood in firm opposition to the forces of evil. Those who have represented the expression of evil must bear the eternal rebuke reserved for them. There are those among us who even now would salute Hitler; but they are in reality a fringe trying to survive against the moral tide of History. There are those who would resurrect the fascism of Mussolini; but they inevitably find themselves marginalized and eventually swept aside by the thrust toward a more equal society and a better world. The putrid stench of slavery lingers in the air we breathe. The Ku Klux Klan still has its disciples, but they appropriately still hide their faces… In shame?
The forward march of History gains impetus when we identify and call Evil by its name… That which seeks to destroy the will to achieve the common good. The establishment of the common good is the goal of our civilization. It is a foundation of the kind of Peace which issues from the triumph of the forces of good over the presence of evil. We understand civil society to be a function of the recognition of each other’s right to the pursuit of our highest human potential regardless of circumstances of race, gender, sexuality, religious persuasion, or the socio-economic circumstances of one’s birth.
When we appropriate to each other as a human right the ability to thrive in ways that are non-obstructive to the strivings of our fellow persons, we regard that as a good thing. To live at peace with each other by the establishment of equity among us is good. We know beyond equivocation that there have been, and that there remain among us persons and influences that do not share the values implicit in these notions. They foster in their own lives, and seek to foist upon others, the inequity that serves their twisted sense of being. They create misery. They are agents of chaos. We call such persons and their intentions and influences… evil.
IN OUR TIME
Permit me to share an anecdote from my own early experiences. The small toe on my left foot sits at a weird angle in relation to the other digits on that foot. This disfigurement happened to me during my ninth grade year. Myself and some of my high school classmates were being pursued after school one day by a fearsome character who haunted our lives almost daily. As I dashed around the corner of one of the buildings in our schoolyard, I drove that toe hard into an obstacle in my path dislocating it. The pain was riveting. The toe was never reset. Thus the lasting disfigurement… the result of my attempt to survive the threats of a vile human being.
This predator would come to our school yard almost daily, armed with a ratchet knife which he kept in full view…swinging it by its ring on his right index finger. I still remember the sneer he wore on his face as he forced pain upon us through the following sick ritual. At the end of the school day he would sit close to a point where he knew we would exit. There he would stoop with a large, heavy stone in front of him. As we passed he demanded, as kind of a tribute to his cruelty, that we each lift this rough heavy rock to our chests and return it to the ground in front of him. With his ratchet knife swinging threateningly around that finger of his, he would dare us to disobey him.
One day a boy in my class, tired of the intimidation, refused to lift that stone. Tired of being bullied, he folded his arms across his chest and stood there in angry defiance. That character, without blinking, flashed open that stainless steel blade and slashed my classmate a bloody curve from the lower lobe of his right ear to the corner of his mouth. For a moment we stood frozen in wide-eyed horror and disbelief. Then we took off running for our lives. About two weeks later this evil menace was involved in a violent confrontation with the police which brought an abrupt end to his reign of terror among us.
THE HEATED STATE IN WHICH WE LIVE
The world we inhabit is in large measure the externalization of our interior states. We project onto the landscape of our lives the cultivated assumptions of our collective experience. Day and night we are bombarded with stories of conflict. From continent to continent and from the uttermost corners of the globe, the accounts of national and internecine strife are collected and fed to us in a steady and consistent menu designed to create among us gluttons for blood and gore. Our collective insecurities are cultivated to serve the economic and existential needs of business interests that profit from our appetite for the “us against them” banquet of horrors.
A critical examination of the practices of the peddlers of “information” lead some of us to the conclusion that they have no real stake in the resolution of any conflict. The demand for high “ratings” is the primary driver in their business culture, and this dictates that they breed a callous disregard for the best interests of people. This includes the people who make up their audience, and those who are the subjects of their reporting. There appears to be a silent partnership between them and those who create the means and the motives for the tragedies they report on.
Through the pageantry of the “show” our popular media connects with the barking dogs in each of us. They use all the tools at their disposal to create a symbiotic relationship between us and them… much to our collective exasperation. And so we complain, but return for more. We cringe, but can’t help the “rubber-necking” that keeps us distracted against our better judgment. We can’t help being strung along in the vain drama that is the “news of the day”… twenty four hours a day all year long. We are hooked because we see ourselves in the stories. The conflicts are our conflicts. The tragedies are our tragedies. We live, and we suffer and die, and then we rise again in a never-ending vicarious drama.
Churches. Mosques. Schools. Government buildings. Train stations. Shopping malls. Movie theaters. Elevators. In urban centers and unknown remote villages… These are the now familiar sites where we witness the brutality expressed by those who choose to feed that evil dog within. It’s teeth of steel in compliance with its gruesome volatility discriminates not between the vulnerable flesh of babies, kindergarteners, expectant mothers, the elderly, the newlywed, … There is no safe haven from its bloody villainy. It prowls as a destructive force of one. It roams in packs with those who share its rabidity.
Our availability to the impulses to become tragic actors in the arena of our conflict driven reality is jarring, but a fact nonetheless. Unleashed…we become the rapist, the child molester, the robber, the terrorist, the murderer, the wearer of the long black coat with the assault rifle hidden beneath looking to create mayhem, the wielder of the long knife on the elevator. Yielding to an obtuse nihilism we become the oppressor of the disadvantaged, the enslaver of the stranger, the bigot. In the absence of moral restraint we become the invaders of countries, the killers of innocents, the abductors of daughters, perpetrators of genocide. The mean dog within each one of us fights the good dog all day and all night long. It’s bark becoming the awful precursor to its terrible, mangling bite.
So we know that evil exists because we are aware of its potential in each one of us. That evil thrives unless we make a conscious choice day by day, minute by minute, event by event, not to feed that mean dog within. Many of us may resist the fact that we each harbor the best and the worst of all instincts within us. To those who think thus I would say that history is full of examples of “good” people who are guilty of committing some of the worst atrocities.
For good to be triumphant we must each commit to nurturing that other dog within… the good dog. Essential steps in the nurturing of the good dog in ourselves must take into consideration the factors that give ascendancy to the evil dog. We must identify these factors and act to replace them with more desirable traits. These factors include, but are not limited to the following:
OUR SECURITY/INSECURITY… The most basic of our needs is the need to survive. It is the primary driver of our responses in the various situations of our lives. The quality of our responses to perceived threats is a direct function of the quality of the values we cultivate habitually. Honesty. Courage. Indomitable Spirit. These are values that can be inculcated through commitment to the practice of a wholesome discipline. A wholesome discipline is centered around a true commitment to balanced living. It strengthens body, mind, and spirit in preparation for the many challenges that living presents. The skillful practitioner learns to focus on what is essential to achieving a balanced life and acts in the best interest of that balance. The disciple knows when and how to act to effect that balance. That disciple knows that true strength does not exploit the disadvantaged.
OUR INTENTION… The ‘thing’ in us that gives rise to, and determines the quality of our actions is something called intention. It is the big WHY behind every action we execute. To have intention is to be able to determine at the most basic level what we want the desired outcome of an action to be. The good dog wants to act in a way that serves the common good. The bad dog’s intention is to serve self regardless of the consequences to others.
Every time we choose to act in the best interest of the other we are feeding that good dog and starving the mean evil dog. This is not easy because it requires that we become more and more selfless in our behavior. It demands that we stifle our want of immediate self-gratification in the interest of perpetuating the common good. Acting unselfishly engenders a nobility that although uncommon, is essential to the building of viable communities. It is what we mean by “being in the world” but not “being of the world”. Ultimately it is how we potentiate the possibilities of being Mankind’s “best friend”.
R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham
President/CEO, FIGTREE ENTERPRISES, INC.
Copyright 2014 Figtree Enterprises, Inc.