We’ve had visitors the last few days, a college friend and her son. She is now a college professor herself, an expert on Charles Dickens. So it was natural that some of our conversations touched on this great British author. We discussed the importance of Dickens in British literature. We discussed a few of his works. We discussed his great engagement and activism for children’s rights, for education and the abolition of slavery. Dickens was a great man! “But”, our professor friend said, “Dickens had a dark side as well. He treated his wife poorly, publicly humiliating her and most likely engaging in an extramarital affair with a much younger woman.”
This prompted me to think about many other “saintly” characters in history that also had serious character flaws. And that carried me to the song, Burden of the Angel/Beast, by one of my favorite artists, Bruce Cockburn. Looking at this theme of the dichotomous nature of human beings; the sinner/saint or angel/beast drove me to search the net for quotes about this phenomenon.
Here are few:
Robert Louis Stevenson –
- I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of these sensations; and in the act, I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature.
- …all human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil…
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn –
- Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.
- Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.
William Golding –
- Maybe, Maybe there is a beast…. Maybe it is only us.
Philip Zimbardo –
- The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces.
- I have been primarily interested in how and why ordinary people do unusual things, things that seem alien to their natures. Why do good people sometimes act evil? Why do smart people sometimes do dumb or irrational things?
- There are times when external circumstances can overwhelm us, and we do things we never thought. If you’re not aware that this can happen, you can be seduced by evil. We need inoculations against our own potential for evil. We have to acknowledge it. Then we can change it.
- Bullies may be the perpetrators of evil, but it is the evil of passivity of all those who know what is happening and never intervene that perpetuates such abuse.
Garrison Keillor –
- Evil lurks in the heart of man, and anonymity tends to bring it out. Internet flamers would never say the jagged things they do if they had to sign their names.
So are humans basically good or basically evil or a bit of both or neither? Let me know what you think J.