Discerning darkness, and coming to the light

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Last week I commended the book, “The Road Less Travelled” by Dr. M. Scott Peck. The book is a very positive view of live and of love, and encourages the reader to stretch and to grow. This week I review another of his books, “People of the Lie”.

“This is a dangerous book.” He begins. And it is.

It is a dangerous book because it attempts to take a direct look at the problem of human evil and to make sense out of what does not make sense in many of our minds. It is dangerous in that few of us want to accept that evil can be right here among us.

But Peck doesn’t define evil as having committed a crime, though the two do often coincide. He doesn’t define evil as having sinned, as we all do sin. Parenthetically, I would define sin as failure to do what I truly believe God would have me do, and as a result separating myself from God at least temporarily.

“The central defect of ‘the evil’ is not the sin but to refusal to acknowledge it.

“More often than not these people will be looked at as solid citizens.”

The author goes on to explain that most evil takes place in rather unremarkable ways and locations, and are seldom designated “crimes”. He offers the Hitler as an exception. He and others sometimes gain such great political power that they are not bound by the restraints that keep most evil in check.

But most evil is practiced in the dark, as it were. The title of the book, People of the Lie, is derived from the notion of people doing what they know to be wrong—not virtuous—yet hiding that truth both from themselves and from others.

“A prominent characteristic of the behavior that I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at anyone who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection.”

“Since the must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad.

“The project their own evil onto the world. The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures.

“Spiritual growth [harkening back to Peck’s masterwork, The Road Less Travelled] requires the acknowledgment of one’s own need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgment, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evident of our imperfection.

“Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the vil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves.”

It is not a pleasant thing to intentionally explore the theme of human evil. It is even less pleasant to carefully consider one’s own shortcomings and situations in which one engaged in misdeeds or intentions. To come into contact with, and to take responsibility for, one’s own evil requires courage and—well, goodness.

As a professional who spends much of my work day helping people to overcome weakness or human frailties I appreciate how hard it can be to examine oneself for opportunities to improve. I get to see great courage each day as good people struggle to become better, and flawed people work to overcome those flaws.

It takes tremendous courage, for example, to admit that one has been too harsh toward family members or otherwise fails to line up with what believes to be good and right.

I am often the beneficiary of these efforts as they move me to take a look at and work on my own many and varied deficits.

It also needs to be stated here again that having weakness, even doing wrong, does not make one evil. It is the compounded effect of failing to acknowledge my wrongs and then scapegoating or blaming others.

I hope we can dig a little deeper, examining our own shortcomings and foibles. I hope that we will rise a little higher, setting aside preferences for what is virtuous and genuinely good for my neighbor—no matter how far away he may live.

I am hoping that we can take this as one of many opportunities to set aside my biases and try to see and state things clearly and honestly. Peck argues that our unwillingness to take responsibility for our misdeeds and misstatements—common challenges for us all—can turn us into an evil people, individually or collectively.

I, for one, believe that there are some marvelous opportunities in this community to become a beacon to the world. This can be a place to which truly good people will look for an example and a protection.

But unless and until we carefully examine and accept our own shortcomings we will be as lost as anyone else—perhaps even more so. Because where much is given much is expected.

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About the Author:

Michael Williams is a licensed psychotherapist, a Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years' experience. A specialist in quickly improving important relationships, he is also an expert in helping clients to quickly overcome problems with anxious, depressed or irritable moods.

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