Hurt People Hurt People: Piercing Through the Myth of Human Evil

evil human

Note: The following is an adapted transcript of a spontaneous talk.

No person is evil.

The economic elite are not evil. Criminals are not evil. Terrorists are not evil. Not even Hitler was evil.

What I mean by “evil” is someone who is inherently mean, cruel, abusive, violent, sociopathic. Someone who was born this way and has to remain this way for his or her entire life. Someone who would have been this way, even if he or she was born and brought up in totally different circumstances.

Lately, I hear a lot people saying that Trump is evil. As you might know, I am not a fan of Trump. I don’t like his political views. I don’t like the way he talks or the way he behaves. But I’m sure that when he was a little baby, he must have looked very innocent, and very cute, and very sweet. And I’m sure the same holds true about Hitler, because all babies are innocent and sweet.

No one sees a baby and says, “Look, this is an evil baby!” So, how does a baby turn into Trump or into Hitler, or into a terrorist or a criminal? Something must happen along the process. Something must take place during the course of one’s life. What takes place is trauma. What takes place is pain and suffering. People who are violent or exploitative or sociopathic are in most — if not all — cases people who have been deeply hurt. And this is not just me saying that; a lot of studies show that people who exhibit violent behavior are people who have been victims of violence themselves.

Hurt people hurt people. But we don’t see that as a society. We are very quick to judge those people, to put a label on them, to call them “evil” or “bad”. But by doing that, we don’t understand them. And how can one deal with someone who is evil — that is, someone who cannot ever change? The only way to deal with such a person is to fight against him or her. There is no other way.

Just think of how our legal system works in nearly all countries around the world. We see criminals as bad people who we punish for their wrongdoings. Of course, punishment is counterproductive. Plenty of research has been done which shows that people who are punished with a prison sentence are more violent and have a more criminal attitude once they exit prison than when they entered it. That is because, as I said earlier, hurt people hurt people. And the more people are being hurt, the more they’re bound to hurt those around them.

So, how could we actually deal with such people and with violent behavior? Well, the only way I can see is to try to understand them, to try to place ourselves in their shoes (while, needless to say, keeping a safe distance from them) and see where they’re coming from and how they’re feeling. If we did that, we would see them in a totally different way. If we could put ourselves into their situation, we would see that we would not have acted much differently ourselves. Actually, we would have acted in the exact same way. If we had the same genetic makeup as them, if we had the same family, as them, if we had the same social environment as them, if we had the same everything, if we were in the totality of their circumstances, we would have behaved exactly like they do. Because we would be them, we would have the same mindset.

If we did that, and saw that we are not better than them — and we are pretty much like them, actually, in so many ways — we would develop empathy towards them. Then, when we would feel connected to them, and start feeling compassion towards them. We would like to help them — to help them heal — instead of punishing them. And, as a society, we would like to build systems to help those people heal, instead of systems that punish them. In addition, we would try to understand the conditions that caused those people to act in the ways they do, so that we can change them. In other words, we would try to address the problem from its root causes, instead of fighting against the symptoms — that is, those people we call “evil.”

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