Photo Credit: S. Braswell
People are not all equal.
That is, all deserve to be approached with openness, kindness, compassion, and the basics of humanity, but not all deserve much more beyond that. This is because there is such a thing as a bad person.
I was like many of you, once upon a time. I believed that everyone was inherently good, that many were just confused, lost, and that there were really no truly bad people. I therefore wasted my energy in a lot of potential good, not actual good.
This is a tricky line to draw. People should be given the benefit of the doubt, and even those who make mistakes should be given a chance to show that they can be better than how they have been.
At least, in theory, it sounds reasonable. But, as with most credit-based systems in an open market, the potential for abuse is fairly high. (Check out our economy’s ledger if you need proof.)
I understand that “hurt people hurt people,” and I still believe in the majority of people being not-bad, even if they do things that harm others. But there is a small percentage (which equates to a large number, nonetheless) of people who truly are bad. Until this fact is acknowledged, these individuals will continue to cause serious damage to innocent, well-meaning, unassuming people, because bad guys understand and take tremendous advantage of the status quo ignorance.
Q: “How do you tell the difference between Good and Evil?”
A: “You give it power.” ~Marilyn Vos Savant
That answer stuck with me since I first read it in Marilyn Vos Savant’s column, one of my favorite go-to sections of The Washington Post when I was a kid. Its simple brilliant truth manifested itself through people I would meet and try to help throughout my life. The only caveat of this test is that by the time “evil” has been identified, power has been put into the wrong hands, and serious damage has often been done.
I was in a harmful relationship where I was once a Zen Ignorant – I was insistent that goodness was to be found in everyone. My perpetrator ex was simply confused because he did not grow up with the kind of love that I did. If I showed him kindness, compassion, patience, and encouragement, he would be inspired into becoming the same. Right?
What took me quite a while to figure out was that my ex understood, from very early on, my need to be fair and kind to others. So, he tailored his words and actions accordingly, and very effectively, to my detriment. This alone did not make him a bad person, though.
Not even did the fact that he knew to hide the things he did to me from the public and the law – any common criminal would do this, and not all criminals are actually bad people. (I know this because following our brother’s death, my surviving brother became a gangster. He did things that gangsters did, and felt the anger and lack of connection to his conscience during those years in order to survive in the streets. I get it.)
But my ex was not an adolescent/young adult who didn’t know better. He was not living in the streets, looking over his shoulder every second. He was not living in nor reacting from fear or violence. He was not mentally ill and needing medication, nor was he on drugs. Along with the lack of someday-pardonable reasons for his behaviors, what truly set him apart from a “lost/confused” person was the fact that my ex enjoyed causing me pain and seeing me suffer.
And this was made possible because I gave him power: the power to disconnect me from my own sense of worth and abilities; the power to flex his “paternal rights” through the court system as a means to continue to terrorize me for nearly a decade after I’d escaped him; the power to stay in this country and continue the cycle with other naive young girls.
Today, I am very mindful of whom I empower. I am openly kind to all that cross my path because I want to fill the world with whatever goodness that I can. But I do not empower everyone. The lesson on the dangers of empowering the wrong person is one of my greatest gifts from that dastardly period. My hard head about having a soft heart had to be split wide open to understand this. But yours doesn’t.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~Maya Angelou
In retrospect, there were a lot of clues that my ex was one to be left slithering on the side of the road. If my mind were more open—seeing people as they were, not as I insisted they were (which was “good” and “nice”)—I would have recognized what I was dealing with. But it was fixated on ideals, and no fixation in our mind allows truth to clearly materialize.
Most people who do bad things are truly simply hurt, lost, and confused, some, terribly so. Help if you can, or walk away if you cannot. But keep this in mind:
Some people are just bad to the marrow of their bones. It is not your responsibility to fix or help them, nor to even try to understand them. In fact, that you cannot comprehend, on any common level, their reasoning, is a good thing. Chances are, there is nothing to rationalize, for there’s nothing humane in the rationalization of seeking and finding pleasure in an innocent person’s pain. You just need to learn to recognize such individuals, and deal with them accordingly, as you would with any deadly serpent in your path.