I’ve pondered these little evils. Online they include the cold shoulder and the pointed word. The targets are diverse, but there is a common thread amongst these victims of minor evils. The shared trait is that of separation; differences between the peoples leading to harsh treatment.
I am reading the wonderful book “Good and Evil in Myth and Legend” by Anthony S. Mercantante. The author examines the human scheme of thing, the very origin and meaning of evil, through world mythology and folklore. The book’s prologue included a partial answer to my question of both minor and major evils. The prologues begins with the following abbreviated fable is by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.
A hermit lived in the forest, and the wild animals were not afraid of him. He and the animals used to talk together and they understood one another. One day the hermit lay down under a tree, and a raven, a dove, a stag and a snake came to the same place. The animals began to discuss why Evil existed in the world.The author interpreted the story to say that Evil is a part of the cosmic order of the universe, making it an integral part of life. What is Evil to one creature is not necessarily Evil for another. I have further interpretation of this poignant tale.
The raven opened the discussion. “It is all because of hunger that there is Evil in the world. How much trouble comes from hunger! All Evil is caused by it.”
“In my opinion,” the dove replied, “Evil does not arise from hunger, but it all comes from love. If only we lived alone, we should have little trouble” Evil does not come from hunger, but from love.”
“No,” retorted the snake. “Evil arises neither from hunger nor love, but from ill temper. If we lived peacefully, we should not do so much harm. The moment we begin to lose our temper, we are undone. All the Evil in the world arises from ill temper.”
“No,” the stag responded, “not from love, and not from hunger or ill temper arises all the Evil that is in the world, but Evil arises from fear. If it were possible for us to live without fear, all would be well with us. All Evil comes from fear.
Then the hermit said, “Not from hunger, not from love, nor from ill temper, nor from fear come all troubles. But all Evil that is in the world is due to our different natures. Hence come hunger and love, ill temper and fear.”
The differences between people both creates opportunities for evil and blinds the perpetrators to the evils they evoke. The natural disagreement over what constitutes evil promotes malicious offspring. We cannot understand why another would consider our actions evil because we do all that can be done to avoid evil ourselves. Sadly an evil avoided for one person leads to an evil experienced in another. Sorrow fills the resulting empathy void.
Why is empathy important? Those with common backgrounds, be they educational, spiritual, economic or whatever, have a degree of empathy for each other. The empathy dissolves differences and enables the same interpretations of evil. In contrast, those without empathy cannot understand the evils they extend to others. Malefic intent is not required for this to happen. Instead ignorance of how others interact with the world sows fertile ground for involuntarily evils. Some evils are purposeful. Most are created from the cosmic gulfs between people.
The gulfs between people promote a lack of understanding and empathy. Tolstoy’s fable has evils originating from hunger, ill temper, transitional love and fear. The Evil of the fable is not an entity. It is instead a condition perpetrated by differences in people’s lives and perceptions. The remedy to evil lies somewhere between closing these differences and accepting the cosmic prevalence of Evil. Acknowledged and recognized, the differences may be purposely decreased between all of us. Those who actively promote differences can be marginalized. All those who wish to embrace a life more free of intentional evils will live with awareness, forgiving themselves for those differences that continue to exist.