I think that when we are children we think very black and white, that good is good and that evil is evil. As I grew into my adulthood I began to realize that it was more complicated than that, that humans sometimes do good, and sometimes evil, and usually with the best of intentions. The German soldiers that were merely following orders felt that they had to do what higher command ordered, that they the underlings were not really responsible. Hmmmmmmmmm
So Philip Zambardo was at the head of the now famous Stanford study where some college students were made prisoners and others guards. It was very revealing. Here is his Ted talk.
Miligram obedience Study looked at authority and cruelty. How far will we go when the athority tells us to keep going. It is astonishing what the discover.
Here is what I think. God gave us free will meaning we can choose for ourselves. But that means we also have to deal with the consequences of our actions, in going against authority or should I also say mob rule. (Hitchcock’s Lifeboat is an amazing study into this kind of thing). Most people don’t want to do this, or maybe can’t. When we stand alone against the flow, against athority and listen to our own most often we end up alone ourselves. It takes a strong individual to do such things, to have vision beyond today, or this week.
Didn’t Jesus tell us to do as much, to be against assumed authority, and to protect those who need to be protected? Did he also tell us to treat everyone the same, to be kind to ALL, to see all as brothers and sisters regardless of station, health, criminal history, or their love for us, or lack of love for us? ALL are just as important to God, all, everyone. And therefore, are we not all called then to be ordinary heroes? As Philip Zambardo mentions in his talk toward the end, the “banality of Heroism”, that ordinary people are the heros. Then we are the hero, maybe only one time in our life, but we are the hero. And what is a hero?
I first came across the idea of good and evil living within the same human being when I saw Schindler’s List. Here was a man who had a girlfriend on the side (not his wife), who choose to use slave labor as it was the cheapest option, and who was greatly a sleaze. At the same time Oskar Schindler could not see the Jews as less than human. That, and most Schindler Jews had one thing other survivors didn’t. They had family. Schindler kept families together. That to me is the true awesome good he did, whether he put the lists together or someone else did, whole families were just that, whole.
What is good, what is evil? One would think it is easily defined, but the older I get the less I understand good and evil. The true is harder to get to. Obviously what happened in Germany during WWll was evil not merely to the Jews and Gypsies, but to the German people who I think still struggle with that part of their history.
I struggle with the duality of my own nature, and my needs vs wants, of my ego vs my desire to be good in the world, and of my realization that if I do a good to one set of people at the same time I can be doing an evil to another set of people. It just isn’t easy, and maybe impossible to do good for all?
Who is a hero, who is a villain? Do we really know? When I was a kid I wanted to write an opera about a trial. At the beginning of the opera the villian is known and the trial is a mere formality. During the opera certain evidence would come up to show the villian not quite as a villian. At the end of the opera I wanted the villian to be seen as the true hero. Maybe some day I will write it.
So, here are some of my heroes. John Adams (President and diplomat, revolutionary), Abigail Adams (his wife), Father Mychal Judge, Nelson Mandela, Shulamit Ran, Barbara Jordan, and Sophia Stoll (White Rose). Who are your heros? I should list villains here, but I am not going to. Instead, could you do an extraordinary thing though you are not extroidinary? What do you see around you? Are your eyes open to the life that is there right now?
Many times I am in my own world and it is my dogs who wake me up. I try to be present, I try to be in the moment and I believe I am getting better at seeing, listening, and reacting. I believe that we all could make this world a happier place if we’d only get out of our own needs (wants). To see life around you as it is happening. To allow life to be, and to be within it. Maybe if we did that more we’d get away from the whole problem of Good and Evil, and become more at peace with the world around us, more integrated to be in the world, rather than trying so hard to change it and make it into the “good” we want it to be.
Moira Levant © June 20 2018