The world would likely find more solutions if it used a better definition for ‘evil’ than the unconscious, automatic one that people take on from those around them. The way it’s expressed now, the current definition defines ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviours, and evil people do ‘bad’ things. But the danger in that is, those are subjective terms.
It may seem like a lofty concept, but ‘Oneness’ just means ‘connected to everything.’ And that’s literal. As the Dalai Lama said, ‘if Buddhism disagreed with science, Buddhism would have to change.’
As an example of our connected nature, consider our numerous layers of identity as citizens and in relation to each other (Albertan, urbanite, brother, friend, co-worker, male, open-minded, logical, grumpy etc.).
Over and above those identities, we are simultaneously our physical selves, and also the cells that make up our physical selves. And in turn those cells are made of chemicals, which are made from nature’s elements, which are themselves made from atoms.
But atoms are made from even smaller particles that are themselves made of even smaller particles that eventually become what we and everything around us is made of. And yet, each of these many connected realities is legitimately ‘us.’
This is why Physicists now meet with Buddhists. They deal with the same question: what is reality and what perceives it?
If we accept the idea that either an all-powerful God made the world exactly the way they wanted it; or that ultimately it’s all made from the same ‘God particle’ through still-mysterious physics; either way, Oneness means that everything that exists counts as ‘inside’ some system of rules that we trust.
That being the case, what we often refer to as ‘evil’ is a strange defiance of that idea of Oneness. How can God allow evil? How can a lion eat its own throat? How can we hate ourselves? How can something be wrong in Oneness if there’s no separate things in Oneness?
Judgment requires a subject-object relationship. That requires duality. Egos live in the dual world. So what is ‘evil’ then? It is narcissistic ‘good.’ The most dangerous thing about Hitler was that his dedication was born in his mistaken notion that he was saving humanity. If none of what he was doing felt so important, he would never have put all of that effort in.
The world’s problem was his fervent, narcissistic belief that he could identify ‘goodness,’ and that he could make ‘badness’ go away.’ The same is true of any person in life who did great damage, with Stalin and Mao also being excellent examples who killed millions in their march toward making things ‘better.’
We need more humility. Every human being as done things that they thought were good when they did them, and then later looked back and realized that they’d accidentally done damage. Or that they didn’t see things the same way after they calmed down.
Just the fact that we’ve all had that happen proves the fact that ‘good’ is a subjective concept even within ourselves. So any time anyone gets fervent about doing ‘good,’ and starts dictating how others should look, or act, or where they should be, we should be aware.
What motivates that is belief, and beliefs are thoughts, which again, come from ego. But every being’s nature is connection. As much as we despise the idea, as babies or toddlers growing up in the same house, any of us could have naturally become friends with young Adolph, or Joseph or Mao. It wasn’t their ‘being’ that was ‘evil.’ Toddlers are all part of Oneness.
The ‘evil’ part was the fervency of their beliefs. Had they all had different experiences growing up, then they, like all of us, would have become a different people, with different thoughts and motivations. This is why sharing love with angry people is important. That anger can fester in our thoughts.
This is a critical point, because otherwise each generation’s accidental villains simply define another ‘evil’ and all hell breaks loose. If anyone sees ‘evil’ as any personal or group cause to which we develop a fierce dedication to doing something genuinely perceived by us as ‘good,’ then we should be aware.
Knowing this is helpful. If we know how life’s ‘villains’ see things, then we know far better what to say to them to shift their perception to something more… cooperative and connected and compassionate.
People listen to people they think care about them. They tend not do their best to ignore the people that oppose their passions.
If any of us thinks we’re above doing this, we’re not. It’s humility about that fact that will keep us safe. If we know we can, we watch in case we are. If we’re sure we couldn’t be, we’ll abdicate our sense of personal responsibility and we’ll end up running on autopilot. I’ll give you an example I’ve written about before.
I can’t recall if she was Jewish or Muslim, but she was from what we in the West call the ‘Middle East.’ She had made a documentary about her relationship with her 100 year old grandparents. Being traditional people they struggled with the idea of homosexuality and could not accept it.
The film was based on the fact that the filmmaker was an unwitting ‘social justice warrior’ who was making a film about her ongoing argument with her grandparents about opening up their minds and accepting homosexuals. She ruined a lot of family dinners for that cause.
Part way through the film, one of them has something like a stroke. And she, as an early 30’s woman with no kids, suddenly has their mortality smack her in the face. Then, realizing she will lose two 100 year old people soon, no matter what, it dawns on her that she has wasted several years turning all of her conversations with her grandparents into arguments over sexuality.
In the end, what difference did it make even if she did change a 100 year old’s mind? Her grandparents had always loved her even though she was gay. And even then, as free adults, why couldn’t she just let them have an opinion she disagreed with? Everyone else in her family did. And her grandparents had let her hold a view they disagreed with.
But those countless negative interactions are not time she will ever get back. They showed her love and she argued back. She cannot replace those arguments with questions about her grandmother’s past, or who her grandfather’s best friend was growing up, or what kind of people they each were attracted to when they were young.
Note, those opportunities for a quality connection were sacrificed thanks to a mission of ‘goodness.’
Few people would argue with the filmmaker’s point in general. The world is more accepting of difference every year and most people realize that can only create more world peace. But the desire to rush the improvement of the world –whether we’re Adolph with a huge machine behind us, or just us standing up for something aggressively– the issue is the aggression.
Again, defining ‘evil’ requires subject-object judgment which defies Oneness. A judgment is an opinion that takes places as a series of thoughts, and thoughts are ego. We can’t help but have an ego, and it’ll get all of us into trouble.
That fact is why it is important for us to remember that we all can make mistakes, so we are wise to enter situations with more humility, compassion and patience, and far less fervency. Because as we all learn by living long enough, everyone ends up regretting something that they once felt was necessary.
‘Fervent judgment’ is the best definition of ‘evil.’ And that makes it little more than misguided thinking, and that’s a great thing. Because we can do something about that. So when facing differences, stay aware, share less judgment, and show more compassion. There’s plenty of proof it works.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.