Friday, April 20, 2007

Our Capacity for Evil

Here is something that got me thinking today. Aldon Hynes wrote on
his blog, Orient Lodge:

"We all have the capacity for violence and cruelty and we all have different ways of dealing with it. We can talk about the media or changing laws. We can do charitable works to balance out our capacity for evil. Yet, I think my friend is wise in encouraging us to all acknowledge our capacity for evil, as part of our efforts to build better defenses to contain them and keep them at bay."

I agree with this, and it made me think about the rage of the Virginia Tech shooter, and it also made me think about my own inner rage, especially that which burned within me as a child after my parents died. That anger, in retrospect, seemed to have burned so hot that simple kindness and human decency were incinerated. And the world reflected this harshness back to me. At the boarding school I was sent off to, at age 11, the other children sensed I was dangerous creature and kept their distance from me. When people say they can't understand how someone could go on a killing spree, I find myself pausing and thinking, not without revulsion, that I DO understand. Then I wonder for a moment if I'm somehow monstrous to have that understanding. I think not. I think I am simply one who has looked at some of the darker, uglier, and less acceptable aspects of my self, and they have looked back at me, and we've nodded at each other in silent recognition.

And I see now also, in retrospect, that there have been several key turns on my path, or places that I've rested, that have sweetened me and helped to distance me from the rage. One huge one was living in a gay community, Provincetown, during the late 1980s, and working with people who were dying of AIDS. And so many were dying. For those of us who loved them, and lived among them as they died, our hearts were ripped open over and over. Experiences like that have a way of shifting perspectives, and bringing in a different focus.

Another huge rage softener has been humor. Laughing at the world, laughing at myself, laughing at things that more tightly laced up folks don't find amusing at all... while I won't claim it has kept me 'sane', it has indeed been my best medicine through the years. Being on Planet Earth, wearing a human outfit, is a very funny activity. It's hard to be in a murderous rage while you are laughing. Or, put another way, as a friend once said to me, it's hard to be angry when there is a cat on your head.


S. Camille said...

Thank you Jaya, wonderfully insightful thoughts on managing rage.

I went through a lot of personal development at one stage of my life where I began to examine my own anger issues quite thoroughly... I found at that time, that most of my rage was the result of being mistreated and I went on to discover that I had the power to stop allowing myself to be mistreated. This is the blessing of being an adult... the sad and frustrating thing is that for children, they don't have the control over their lives to stop themselves from being mistreated and I think that can lead to acts of outrageous violence that are simply unexplainable, ie the Virginia Tech tragedy.

No, I don't think you're monstrous for thinking you could possibly understand and I believe Aldon is right in that it is simply within human capacity to be able to feel this way. What can really change the world is finding a collective way to stop mistreating and start respecting the feelings we can have. I wonder if someone were to have listened to this boy from Virgina tech, might this have happened at all? It's hard to say... but never do I think we should avoid or deny our feelings, they are what they are... most of us just need to be understood.

Sorry for the long drawl :)


Jaya said...

Thanks for your comments, Camille.

You wrote:

"I went on to discover that I had the power to stop allowing myself to be mistreated."

There you go! That statement is what leapt out at me from your comments. It's a very important insight - realizing that we are not impotent victims. Because with that comes the realization that others are not to blame for our situations. And if Cho had not been blaming others for all his perceived woes, then I doubt he would have felt the need to kill.

This is why I feel it is so important to empower children in any ways safely possible, and also to instill a sense of personal responsibility in them.