I think a lot about what it means to “overcome evil with good”. There’s a lot of crap going on that qualifies for extremely undesirable and detrimental (my working definition of “evil”) and we seem to know squat about how to handle it, let alone how to eliminate and prevent it.
So how do we overcome evil with good?
Unfortunately, information seems scarce. Certain kinds of information seem overly abundant, but it’s all pretty theoretical and abstract. Most of it takes this form: Do A, B, and C and I/we/the gods promise that Z will happen. Promises, promises. You know it’s bullshit when they want to charge up front for the “secrets” that you need just to try the experiment. Why not give you a free trial so that you can see if it works as advertised, just like an app — unless they already know that it’s bullshit? Or even more to the point, if goodness and love and faith are supposedly the foundations for their wisdom, why not show some goodness, love, and faith in us? If I made you happy for life, are you telling me that you wouldn’t want to do something good for me in return? We’re supposed to take their word and trust them when they don’t trust us? And we’re not talking about scarce commodities here, mysteries so rare that it takes precautions to ensure that we properly compensate them — especially not if they keep blathering about abundance, LMAO! If there’s oodles, what’s to be stingy about? And if there isn’t oodles, what are they on about?
I’ve decided that “spiritual” teachers who do not follow a gift economy model — where the teacher gifts his wisdom, and students gift their gratitude in return — don’t know shit about spirituality. They are liars. That applies to the likes of Tolle, Chopra, Dyer, Hay, Braden, and pretty much every New Age or traditionally religious mega-master and guru that ever walked the face of the earth. Why don’t they do it like Jesus and Buddha did? Sure, they have helped thousands, maybe even millions, or so they and their adherents say — but so did I when I was a member of a Bible cult. Sure they offer amazing insights and truths. Who would pay attention to them if they didn’t?
But notice something: they don’t give straightforward, no-nonsense, practical how-to information about dealing with extremely undesirable and detrimental people and behaviors. If they even broach the subject of actual, real-life evil, they talk in riddles and circles and arcane methods that seem more like a sorcerer’s esoteric hocus-pocus than knowledge gained from actual experience. It’s got no grit, no sweat, no meat or bones, unbearably light. Telling you how it’s going to happen is not the same as telling you how it felt to do it. If you’re interested in fantastic theories, there are plenty out there, for sure. If you’re interested in actually overcoming evil with good in practice, on the ground in embodied life with real people, you want to listen to people who did it and hear how it turned out and what it was like to do it. Let’s not waste our time on posers.
I’m firmly convinced that we can develop real, practical how-to information about overcoming evil with good. But we can’t do it by avoiding evil. I think that plenty of such how-to information was developed over the centuries, but most of it got suppressed as it was discovered and created by, of course, people whose style would have been crimped by letting it get around. We’re supposed to believe that a writing fool like Paul the apostle only wrote 13 letters throughout his life as a follower of Jesus, and that the other apostles only wrote a few each and maybe a gospel? Bullshit.
Two things accompany tyrants, bullies, and other kinds of psychopath in every age: bloodletting and destruction of information. Whether bodies or books, the vehicles of truth that threaten the agendas of the vile are by them vilified, demonized, and burned or otherwise obliterated. Of course, for thousands of years most information was disseminated verbally, until the advent of the printing press and later technologies made dissemination of written information easier. The bizarre practice of killing people because of their beliefs or their alleged immorality was precisely in order to suppress their knowledge and prevent its spread. You don’t kill people just because they have wrong ideas — especially not when their only real crimes were changing others’ minds or some mumbo-jumbo about spiritual wickedness. But you do kill people when they know something that you don’t want other people to hear. Censorship of any sort has nothing to do with safeguarding truth, but always intends to suppress truth — the sole exception being trusted guardians protecting immature psyches from the trauma of confronting information they aren’t yet competent to process. Past a certain age and coming from strangers, though, it’s not an exceptional case but rather an excuse to subjugate.
Suppressing information used to be much easier to do before the advent of electronic storage and transmission. Now we have two things going for us. Information is now like a hydra — you can’t delete it fast enough to prevent new copies from popping up elsewhere. And the “going viral” phenomenon compresses the window of opportunity for suppressing information that’s passed a popularity tipping point to virtually no time at all. It’s complicated by the fact that you don’t know which information will go viral until after it does. You usually don’t even know that it’s out there until after it explodes, which is why ways to detect “trending” became so important. Bottom line, the force of suppression-resistance is with us, so we need to ride it: experiment and share and compare notes and promote what we learn!
There are a lot of facets to this. Some methods of overcoming evil with good are pretty familiar and accepted, such as love-bombing, killin em with kindness, or mirroring/pacing/modeling that leverages our instinctive, sympathetic, limbic responses to input. Inducing guilt is another — people prone to misbehave are people who feel badly about themselves, so if exploiting that self-hatred helps curb their bad behavior, that’s a greater good than letting them torment others guilt-free, at least in the short term. An old proverb goes, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Those approaches work with people whose psyches are still characterized by significant levels of humanity. They still have consciences; their hearts can still be appealed to; they are still capable of the awareness of others that enable empathy and compassion; they can still feel remorse and regret. What about sociopaths and psychopaths and garden-variety bullies?
Literature on bullies seems to be booming, but otherwise that front is like a black hole of ignorance. Take the question of how to handle narcissists, for example. Pretty much everyone — professional psychologists and therapists included — advise escape and little else. That’s not overcoming — it’s insulating ourselves and letting wrongdoers go off and torment someone else, maybe someone we care about. That might be good enough for the small-minded and weak-hearted, but not if we care about more than just ourselves.
My aim for overcoming is to find ways that motivate wrongdoers to cease and desist on their own accord. Put them in positions where they need to choose the lesser of undesirables, forcing them to take the option that just happens to be what they’d do if they weren’t bent and twisted. They are masters at putting us into Catch-22s so that either way they get something they want. And we think we can’t learn their own game better than they did? Pshaw. Or incentivize them so that wrongdoing doesn’t pay as well as rightdoing does. Most ambitiously, (although not for the weak-hearted or impatient,) find ways to befriend them so that we can make contact with the scared shitless, puny, frail humans buried in hiding beneath tons of the bullshit of passive or overt aggression and peremptory defensiveness. Every bad person is an existentially threatened survivalist. If we can help them realize that they actually aren’t under cosmic, karmic, divinely omnipotent, universal attack, maybe we can get them to lay off their violence a tad. Maybe we can even help them out of their tortuous inner hells into a bit of light and acceptance.
This isn’t rocket science, but it is strategic psychology. I don’t buy the “but you can’t help them unless they want help” argument. Of course they want help — they’ve just got colossally warped ideas about what constitutes “help”, like every addict in the throes of craving and denial does. But it could very well be that we aren’t willing to do what’s necessary to help them unless they already want help. That seems quite obvious, actually.
We know that intelligent, caring people can be motivated to believe idiotic things and behave in profoundly idiotic ways, and the methods to do it are well-known — consumerism, for example. Owning stuff reflects on our personal worth and fosters better quality of life? Please. Hoarding stuff indicates our competence and warrants higher social status? OMG. How stupid do they think we are? Well, if they were so wrong and it were so difficult to get into our heads, we’d probably be facing other challenges instead of climate change and islands of trash, some the size of Texas, floating around in every major ocean. And what about the twin farces of patriotism and national security? How’d they manage to sellthat bridge to us? We’re spending so much on anti-terrorism that experts estimate there would need to be four terrorist attacks foiled every single day in order to cost-justify our measures. The argument, “But it’s all about saving lives” is patent hogwash. No, it’s not about saving lives — it’s about feeling safer, and the feeling is delusional. Besides, governments don’t make a single move towards saving lives unless there’s money in it for them. Lives are saved because the cost of saving them is less than the cost of letting them die. On the flip side, the powerful gladly throw lives away by the thousands and millions when it means making them and their cronies a profit.
Debilitated, wrong-headed people with damaged psyches figured out how to manipulate even relatively smart, competent people into living in crazy stupid ways and doing crazy stupid things. The idea that we as smart, competent people can’t figure out how to motivate debilitated, wrong-headed people with damaged psyches — which necessarily means simplistic, juvenile, even infantile psyches — is just silly. Of course we can.
I think that the real rub is this: in order to understand the psyches of people we tend to think of as “evil” — or sociopathic or psychopathic or criminal or otherwise — we would need to get familiar with them. That’s the opposite of distancing ourselves, marginalizing and alienating them. That’s scary shit for most of us. And as I’m finding out, it’s scary for a lot of bogus reasons. We actually can do this. We are smart enough and well-intended enough, and the awful things that we’re afraid will happen if we try it do not in fact occur.
A lot of our unfounded fears and aversion boils down to egoistic concern for the hits our reputations might take from guilt by association. In her TED Talk Fighting with non-violence, Scilla Elworthy’s central question, “How do we deal with a bully without becoming a thug in return?” was a bit misleading. What she and the rest of us actually want to know is: How do we deal with a bully without looking like a thug? I discuss this inNonviolence Isn’t Necessarily the Answer. You just can’t clean things up if you’re afraid to get a little dirt on you. And some of our reluctance stems from superstitious foreboding that just by being with monsters we might end up becoming like them. But even deeper and more subtly, we’re afraid to face how much we are already just like them, but for the grace of God, and can’t bear the prospect that we are capable of monstrosity just like they are, or further, that we have been and are monstrous in secret ways that we might not admit even to ourselves, aka denial.
In other words, we fear exposure, even to ourselves, and we’re afraid that we wouldn’t stand up to either the judgment of others or our own if the truth were made known. But as long as we run, run, run away from evil and evildoers, we’ll continue getting slammed and banged and violated by it and them, running blind and ignorant and hoping to stumble onto some place of refuge, preferably under the care of a guru who holds magic secrets. Until we face up and stand up to evil, its agents, and the truth we’ll discover about ourselves, we’ll keep living in fear of all that and hoping for magical rescue by heroes from somewhere over the rainbow — and that’s a tragic, hypocritical crock if we are the only real heroes there are.
We don’t know how the dang things work or else we’d know how to work them. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn how, and we’d better learn soon. Not only we but our families and friends and especially our children remain vulnerable until we do. The world has become too small to run away and hide from evil anymore. We’ll find practitioners everywhere we go. And the worst of them, the ones who are using their power to do great, extinction-threatening evil, are spreading global nets that eventually will ensnare and imprison all of us. Time to get cracking.
(Reprinted from my general-purpose “Millard’s Blog“)