Some people talk about good and evil. There are good people, they say, and there are evil people. Those who say this, of course, are good. Others are evil.

Actually, evil is in the eye of the beholder. The beholder sees evil and looks for evidence of evil. If they seek, they will find. If somebody says something with which they strongly disagree, they call him evil. If somebody believes in a religion, philosophy or political ideology with which they disagree, they call her evil. If someone has the wrong kind of glint in his eye, they call him evil.

The concept of evil grew out of certain religious doctrines. The devil in the Christian religion was seen as evil. A heathen—someone who opposed Church doctrine–was evil. Psychologically disturbed individuals have historically been seen as possessed by the devil. Millions have been slaughtered because they were labeled as evil.

Sigmund Freud viewed religion as a human psychological disturbance. “Religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis,” he said. Viewing the world in terms of good and evil is a childlike attribute, and the concept of evil is a childlike understanding of the world. However, it is not only in religion that the concept of evil comes to the fore, but also in politics. When a nation or political group is in conflict with another group, the other group is invariably seen as evil. When a country is at war with another country, the other country is seen as evil. When tempers rise between you and me, I may see you as evil.

People who have certain psychological disorders tend to see evil in the world. Paranoid schizophrenics, narcissists, anti-social personalities and borderlines, to name a few, see evil everywhere. Those who suffer from borderline personality disorder, for example, are emotionally unstable and they often only see goodness and evil and nothing in between. At one time they will see you as the greatest person they’ve ever met. At the next moment they will demonize you as a devil.

We tend to look at the surface and not the deeper layers of human behavior. A man murders a woman in a brutal way and we say he is evil. But upon further investigation we find that when he was a child, he was tortured by his mother and through this experience he developed a rage at women. When we look further, we find that his mother was abused by her father. When we look even further, we find that the mother’s father had a twisted childhood. “Man is not born wicked; he becomes so as he become sick,” Voltaire wrote.

Evil is a tag we put on somebody or some group that we hate. We want to view them as evil in order to dismiss them as human beings. If we categorize someone as evil, we don’t have to consider their feelings or their point of view. They are evil and that’s all there is to it. They therefore deserve anything that we do to them. Evil people don’t have any rights. We can treat them however we want.

Evil is in the eye of the beholder. Judging some person, group or country as evil comes out of anger or fear or narcissism. When we are angry or afraid of somebody, we see them as evil. This is not to say that some people, groups, or countries do not commit atrocious acts. Germany’s extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II was atrocious. The beheading of infidels by radical Muslims is horrible. These actions are evil. But the people who do them are not evil. They are sick people, sick not of their choosing, but because they are unfortunate. They are unlucky insofar as they were born into poverty, into a twisted family or cultural circumstances or with bad genes—or all of the above.

Likewise innocence is in the eye of the beholder. When we view someone as evil, we also at the same time view ourselves and those on our side as innocent. Nobody is innocent. We are all in this together. If you view someone as evil and treat him as evil, you are acting in a hostile way. Therefore you are not innocent. Innocent people do not take hostile actions against others or make judgments against others. Just as there is no such thing as evil, there is also no such thing as innocence. It is a human tendency to see the faults in others and to deny our own faults.

Judging people, groups or countries as evil and punishing them is at the root of all human strife. It leads to animosity and war. The key to peace and harmony is to understand deeply, to understand yourself and to understand others in an empathic way. Deep understanding leads to constructive solutions of conflicts. If I am angry with my neighbor and I view myself as innocent and my neighbor as evil, so that my solution is to punish him, the punishment will only lead to a bad end. If I understand deeply that it takes two to have a conflict, I will be able to find a constructive solution.

Evil exists because we believe in it; it is generally a projection of our own unconscious hatreds onto others. The more we deny our own faults, the more we attribute them to others.

Shakespeare said, “This above all; to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”