How to Survive Evil
The last 24 hours have been hard for everyone. Distrust, fear, and anger fuel our doomscrolling through social media. There is a sinking feeling in our guts. It is the same fear that gripped us when our parents fought, or when we caught our first glimpse of evil. Back then we might have hidden in a corner, listening and hoping no one would be hurt. Today we are frozen with our phones in our hands, trying to take in as much information as quickly as we can to know if we need to fight or to run.
But I want to tell you that we can, and we will, survive.
Yes, this moment in time is exhausting. It feels as though there is no bottom, no safety, no way to ensure evil will not triumph. This terrible feeling is one I know all too well. Like far too many, I’ve endured evil - physical, emotional, and sexual abuse to be specific. The trauma was overwhelming at times. But it also strengthened me. No matter how often I feared for my life, or thought about suicide, I survived. Evil did not take what was good from me - my intelligence, my compassion for others, or my hope. The work I’ve done to endure the evil in my life has made me a better, and stronger, person.
Just as evil did not destroy me, neither does it destroy us. While we all experience evil during our lives, the vast majority of us survive it. Those of us who do survive build resilience to evil. But we cannot simply shrug off the presence of evil in our world because we survived. We also have a duty to help others, and to remember and fight on behalf of those who did not.
Evil is a dangerous virus that, unchecked, can spread quickly through a population. Evil can cause incalculable harm, especially when it infects people of power and undue influence. Unchecked, evil can lead us to justify the detention, abuse, and even the killing of the most vulnerable. Evil can never be tolerated, it is never defensible. It is the duty of every human being to do everything we can to not spread evil to others.
Evil is insidious because it works on our minds to turn a friend into a stranger, and a stranger into an enemy. The first sign of infection is our heart hardens to suffering. When we take pleasure in the pain endured by someone else we are beginning to run a moral fever. When we inflict our pain on someone else, we have become contagious and risk our own wellbeing and the safety of those around us. This does not mean we have become evil, however. When we are infected by evil, we can get better. We need rest, care, and safety to heal. Once we have healed, we may be able to inoculate others from the harm evil presents.
Evil seems overwhelming because it is an ever present threat to our wellness. Despite our best (and sometimes worst) efforts, evil has not and likely cannot be banished from our world. But like many viruses, evil can be met with strong medicines that can beat back it’s worst effects. Healing from evil and preventing its spread requires community. Just like those who overcome a destructive illness retain antibodies in their bloodstream, survivors of evil carry within them wisdom that can teach us how to endure. Their stories are medicine that combats evil by empowering us with hope that evil can be overcome. They help us better know how to confront evil with courage and compassion. They encourage us to help those who have been hurt. We must take in that wisdom if we hope to confront and overcome pandemics of evil. What does the wisdom of survivors tell us? That compassion, justice, and tolerance create environments that make it harder for evil to thrive.
Fighting evil can feel like an impossible task, especially in dark times like these. However the testimony of trauma survivors proves that time and again, as frightening as evil seems, it is not as strong as our ability to survive. Where evil throws up walls to separate us, life always find a through. People find ways to connect, and by connecting, find ways to survive. Yes, sometimes evil wins. Sometimes evil takes a life. But we cannot allow that dark truth to overshadow the light and hope that comes from connection, survival, and compassion. When that light shines, the power of evil fades. It recedes further when we demand, pursue, and receive accountability from the agents of evil. But that struggle can take years, even centuries, to accomplish. In the present moment, however, we have to remember this:
We can endure, and we will endure.
All that is uncertain is how much work will be needed to survive this wave of infection.