It really is, isn’t it.
- In relationships, staying loyal is harder than going out and having an affair.
- In school, studying hard and not cheating is harder than the opposite.
- In sports, practicing and honing your skill is harder than taking performance enhancing drugs.
- In work, working diligently and learning your craft is harder than padding your resume with false experiences and degrees.
So, the question is: why not take the shortcut? Why not cheat, steal, enhance, fake, lie? One obvious answer is, of course, getting caught. But beyond that what reasons are there? How about living with yourself? You can’t escape your own conscience and you can’t escape your own awareness of being a cheater. Knowing those things about yourself has consequences. You don’t act the same, work the same, love the same when you have guilt driving your thoughts. You will lash out defensively when it makes no sense for you to do so. You will be paranoid. You will always struggle with it.
But if you walk the straight and narrow road and everyone else cheats, aren’t you playing on an uneven playing field? Others get ahead while you slog away in the trenches, not making the same progress? That’s not fair, right? No, it’s not. But the answer isn’t cheating. The answer is believing that living a right life is its own reward. You get to live with your conscience clear, whether or not someone else does better than you. You get to be on solid ground.
There is a story that Jesus taught illustrating this.
24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Now, I am not suggesting you have to obey a certain set of biblical rules by telling this story. What I am saying is that a clear conscience and a solid ethic will hold you up throughout your life much better shortcuts, a guilty conscience and an opportunistic and selfish ethic.
Drawing © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“Wickedness is always easier than virtue; for it takes the shortcut to everything.” – Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, English writer
Let’s consider the history of the world, shall we? What is it filled with? Good people doing terrible things. Why are they doing these terrible things? Because they don’t think they are terrible. They think they are good.
The WORST of these violators think what they are doing is good because their conscience says so. Their conscience might be in the form of GOD telling them to slaughter entire tribes. Or maybe it’s their conscience telling them it’s their superiority in intelligence or religiosity or genetics, etc. that allows them to enslave and colonize entire continents. Maybe their conscience tells them their physical strength gives them the right to own women and make them do what they want. Maybe their conscience tells them their wealth proves their worthiness to be in control over others and those others who are poor deserve their fate.
How do you avoid letting your conscience lead you astray into evil? For me, it’s by having a rules of behavior and thinking that guard against it.
Here are four actions that I practice remembering:
- Being kind is more important than being right.
- Knowing something to be true too quickly is not to be trusted.
- Seeing the issue from the person who could be hurt’s point of view is essential.
- Causing harm to a specific group of people is not my conscience acting, but my ego and my fear.
What actions do you take?
Drawing and Commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“Men never do evil so fully and so happily as when they do it for conscience’s sake.” – Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, French scientist and philosopher
Being Framed vs Framing an Idea
You have heard of the term ‘being framed’. It’s when evidence is constructed and planted to make an innocent person appear guilty of a crime. I thought about this as I drew this illustration of evil. However, this quote uses the term ‘framed’ in a different way than that. In this context it means organizing of one’s thoughts. You put a frame around an idea of event and what is inside the frame makes sense and what is outside the frame is irrelevant. It allows you to see something clearly without a lot of distractions.
So what do the two definitions of ‘framed’ have to do with each other and what do either of them have to do with evil? Both are built to clarify. One to clarify a lie, one to clarify a truth. Both allow someone to control a narrative of events. Both limit information; one for the better, one for the worse. And both are how we allow evil into our lives.
One of my favorite lyrics is in a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Sometimes we are blinded by the very thing we need to see.’ It perfectly sums up what happens when evil is right in front of us but we don’t see it. It’s most often because we don’t want to see it. When that happens we will often rationalize (frame) what we are doing in other terms. It’s innocent, it’s an opportunity, it’s fun. We reframe it so it’s not evil, it’s something else.
In other words we fool ourselves. How do we avoid that? Brutal honesty is the only way. Now, when you are talking to or about someone else, brutal honesty is usually a code word for just being brutal to satisfy your own desire to feel superior. But when the looking in the mirror brutal honesty is the only way to avoid fooling yourself. Admitting your weaknesses, your inclinations, your habits, and your blind spots is how you stay safe. It allows you to frame yourself accurately.
That doesn’t mean you have to tell the world about it all. But it probably would help to have a trusted friend or two who really know you, that you can admit who you really are and who will help you build frames that are accurate and real.
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.” – Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928, English novelist – Best known as the author of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’.
What is evil?
I really like this quote because it explains very succinctly why so many atrocities happen in the world. People want to believe in demons and devils, evil people purposely doing evil things. But in my experience, and in my reading of history, biography and sociology, this is not true. People almost never are attempting to do evil. What they are attempting to do is find happiness.
Intent vs Effect
But wait, isn’t that completely perverse? Yes it is. And that is why it is important to understand. Evil doesn’t come from evil people. Evil comes from (in most cases) normal people doing things they think will make them happy. Take for example the illustration above. Is the drunk driver who plows down a group of pedestrians intending to do evil? No, he or she is not. They are attempting to feel good. Are they doing that in the right way and will it really make them feel good? No, it won’t. But that is not the point. The point is their course of action is driven not by a desire to do evil but by a desire to be happy. It is intent vs effect.
When Point of View Matters
Let’s take another example that isn’t quite as clear-cut. A white southerner in the US likes to drive around with the confederate flag waving from his car. His intent, in his mind, is to celebrate his proud heritage. Celebrating that makes him happy. But the black southerner seeing the car drive by doesn’t see a symbol of a proud heritage, he sees a terrible heritage. One filled with 250 years of slavery and violence against his ancestors and another 100+ years of segregation and oppression after that. That flag symbolizes evil to him, not happiness. Who is right? I know what my answer would be.
So, when is evil just plain old evil? After all, even Lucifer thought what he was doing trying to basically overthrow God was for the good, right? So if the originator of Evil in the stories of old illustrates this point, then what example of evil doesn’t? Hitler comes to mind, right? But in his mind and the minds of his followers they were pursuing the corporate happiness of their people. All the evil they did, if they were even able to admit there was any evil, was in service of their happiness. That tells you how perverse and twisted the mind can become.
Looking at Ourselves
That is why it’s never enough to go by a person’s intent. Their intent, at least their stated intent, will never be to admit to evil. They will ALWAYS rationalize their behavior and say it’s about something else. That is why one must always look at effect even more than intent. If the effect is evil, that is what matters. THAT is what one has to look at in their heart if they truly want to be devoid of evil. It’s not easy because it demands looking at self in a raw and unflinching way. But it can be done.
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
The full quote is, “No man chooses evil because it is evil, they just mistake it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Shelley, 1797-1851, English writer
An interesting note: Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, one of the most succinct examples of someone thinking they are doing good when in fact they are doing evil. I read it a few years back and while it has a very dated and florid style to it, it’s well worth a read.