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My Struggles with Evil

This is (of course) very simplistic, but here is a photograph I took of some oranges. Are they evil, good, or just oranges?
This is (of course) very simplistic, but here is a photograph I took of some oranges. Are they evil, good, or just oranges? This is how I feel sometimes, trying to detect and label the presence of “evil” with any accuracy.

“Evil” is not a word I am comfortable with.

Part of the problem is its range.

“Evil” can be used to describe anything from a bad temper (“an evil disposition”) to a bad cup of coffee (“that is just evil!”) to a bad person (“s/he is evil to the core”) to something bad we can’t even comprehend (“I felt the presence of evil”).

Evil can also be applied in both religious and secular situations (although the latter tends to talk in terms of “positive and negative,” “white and black,” “light and dark”).

In this way, using the word “evil” feels more like a description or a judgment – in other words, more like an adjective than a noun or verb.

But where I have no real issue in cases where one person’s opinion may be that the coffee is stale and another’s is that it is fresh, I don’t like to think of “evil” as a matter of personal opinion.

It is a strong enough term that any use of the word should be (in my, um, opinion) definitive.

For instance, let’s say there is a fire raging. Someone yells “fire!” and everyone makes a run for it, injuring or even trampling others in the process.

No one wants to find out later that the person who yelled only thought s/he saw fire.

In the same way, if a fire is on the loose, we don’t want a situation where a person in a position to issue an alert isn’t sure what to call it or if it is dangerous and so hesitates to sound the alarm.

And while I feel like I have a deep inner faith that presents itself to me at the level I can open to it, I don’t personally process evil in religious terms.

It feels like it must be broader than “just” religious or “just” secular (or even scientific) to be classified as such.

This means that sometimes I wonder if evil is “real” – in the sense there is a spectrum ranging from “very good” to “very bad” and evil is just a hair beyond all of that. 

Could it be, perhaps, that evil is simply misunderstood – a necessary presence as part of one critical pair of opposites we actually need to foster opportunities for balance and growth?

If society as a whole seems so on the fence about who and what, exactly, qualifies as evil, could it be that “good” as well is simply a matter of personal interpretation?

For example, I can look back at the years I spent battling my eating disorder, and later depression and anxiety as well, as the worst of my life. I have met some that even relate to issues such as an eating disorder or depression as the presence of evil trying to drag them down, a dark force they must do battle against.

Yet today, if you asked me, I would say I wouldn’t trade those dark years for anything – they absolutely played a starring role in the person I am so glad to be today.

But mostly, beneath and beyond all this, I think the reason I am so “on the fence” about evil as a fact, a tangible, provable entity, is because it distracts me with the primal fear and deep hopelessness I feel when I hear the word.

Don’t get me wrong – I have met people who I have believed (and sometimes still do) were truly evil. I have even called those people evil, and have described their acts as “evil” to my mentors and others.

But I feel great pain at such a condemning label, and do not truly feel qualified to make such a pronouncement over anyone or anything.

What if those people were not really evil at all? What if they were good in an evil disguise (in the sense that they offered me priceless opportunities to become a better me through the course of our interactions)?

What if the co-called “evil people” were victims of awfulness themselves (as in the case of people who abuse others because they were first abused)?

Or what if, at the time we met, they were just in a really bad place in their lives, just like I used to be in a really bad place in my life, and in their own torment they tormented those around them as well because that was literally all they had to offer?

So that is why, while I may I may use the word “evil” in a state of temporary frustration, judgment, anger, or fear, I can still never use the word “evil” with any real sense of comfort.

If – in a scientific sense – energy is never created nor destroyed, and every positive charge has a corresponding negative charge, and polarity is subject to change without notice – could one day all that I am calling “good” suddenly switch sides?

Could everything I’ve been calling “black” become “white,” and vice versa?

Yet in the midst of all this “evil angst,” I still find it horrifically challenging not to condemn the perpetrators of painful, savage acts that tear people and whole countries apart.

At its core, evil is a difficult sensibility to believe in – because to believe it can exist in others means I must also believe it can exist (perhaps even does exist) in me.

And the truth is, I may never resolve my feelings about evil – but perhaps that is a good thing.

Perhaps I am not someone who needs to make a decision about anything related to evil – it may be there are those better informed and equipped who can see further and deeper into the truth than I can.

If so, thank goodness, because it frees me to do the only thing I actually do have the power to do to fight back against the ever-increasing pain in this world – I can spend all my time and focus to become a lighter, more open, giving, and loving me.

Today’s Takeaway: When you think about evil (if this is something you contemplate) what comes up? Do you have a sense of evil as a concept or a fact? If so, what do you feel is the part you can play to ease the pain it can cause to you and to others? I would love to hear your thoughts!!

My Struggles with Evil

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2016). My Struggles with Evil. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Sep 2016
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