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"If only it were so simple! If only there were people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place, sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

Confronted with the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb; it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were executioners and we weren’t."


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


If only it were so simple! To point the figure at ‘them’ and accuse ‘them’ of being responsible for the evil which pervades our world. But Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel laureate, dissident, political activist, former detainee of the Communist state and poet brings the chilling truth of ‘evil’ closer to home. After detailing his own rise to authority in the army and then relating events leading to his arrest, Solzhenitsyn confronts a horrifying personal reality: he is already one of "them", one of the executioners. Only upon reflection could he see that before his arrest, he had been just as they (his captors and persecutors) were.


The enormity of this truth is so terrifying when we really begin to appreciate it. Was the gothic horror of Hitler’s Germany and the Jewish holocaust that ensued essentially that isolated man’s frantic attempt to feel safe or the projection by an entire nation of its own shadow? Is the institutionalised evil of racism that leads to lynchings and apartheid at base an unconscious corporate acting out of our darker selves? Can we be the owners of the same murderous anger which wells up from our souls when provoked? Instead of finding evil in ourselves and in our own terrified longing to be in control of the universe (including the inner one), it is easier to find an "all-bad" scapegoat like a racial or religious group or a particular dictator in the world order or even a particular individual whom we are acquainted with. We recognise evil in other people, no doubt about it. But Solzhenitsyn’s icy wisdom in stating that we all hold a potential for evil is harder to face.


What a frightening truth it is to be confronted not by some external foe or visible evil (evil incarnated in persons, communities, nations or systems) but by the often-unconscious manipulations that lie hidden within our divided heart. A darker side that we would very much prefer to see hidden, disavowed, and repressed. Personal ‘evil’ is such an isolating and frightening experience that even to admit to possessing such a darker side of our personality unravels new strands of pain. Explorers are risking personal safety and life to break the boundaries of the known universe and penetrate their darkest secrets, yet humankind continue to find it so much harder to penetrate the dark recesses of our own psyche for fear that we may confront the inner demons and monsters that plague our dreams and haunt our waking hours. From the better part of these ruminations, it emerges that man is a kind of prodigy that combines within himself apparent antitheses: he possesses something of the Divine, yet remains fallen; he is weak, or strong; he is in control of much of his environment and yet often powerless against his deepest urges.


Sometimes we find that we have an irrational reaction to another. Often we cannot find an explanation for our behaviour and emotion. When we are in the presence of some people, it is as though something irrational takes over. It may be fear, hatred or anger, or conversely, adulation or wonderment. It is as though a switch is turned on in us. We lose objectivity as if we were taken over by an affect. We are, in a real way, possessed. We are not ourselves. When I recall my school days, I was thought of (and which I believed myself) to be mild-mannered, timid, shy, quiet, and passive. Yet there were several occasions, when I became possessed by a ferocious anger, literally ‘blowing up,’ thus shocking my peers and teachers who did not know what to make of it. ‘This isn’t Michael,’ they would say. I too felt possessed and felt great remorse and puzzlement on those occasions when I was not able to control my explosive emotions.


And so this paper is about that frightening dark corner (which may turn out to be much greater in extension than what is apparently perceived), the dark side of our soul, the shadow which we attempt to disavow but stubbornly and firmly remains stuck to our feet (and our soul). And so each opposing part of our divided heart is not at ease with the other, in fact, often viewing each other as enemy. Each tend to play an on-going game of hide-and-seek. There is both fear and fascination between them. No matter how one tries to maintain a semblance of objectivity in pursuing this topic, it is inevitable that one is confronted by the intimate subjectivity of the issue. We may recognise certain familiar patterns in the stories of other people, yet ultimately draw conclusions only from our own personal experiences. Where do we confront ‘evil’ unless we first recognise it in ourselves? Who do we know best except ourselves? And even, so do we really KNOW or fully understand ourselves?


By way of illustration, most writers who have dealt with this ‘scary’ issue of psychological evil (that everyone seems capable of), would cite a case from literature, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this story, the righteous and upstanding Dr. Jekyll discovers a dark and deformed side of himself, Mr. Hyde. By day he meets the world as the good doctor, and by night his activities become increasingly dominated by Mr. Hyde. As Jekyll begins to realise that he can no longer control whether or not he becomes Hyde, he makes a major mistake. He redoubles his efforts, even through the use of religious discipline that is not necessarily faith, to gain control over, or repress, Hyde (we religious people are only too familiar with this response). In the end, Mr. Hyde completely takes over as the dominant personality. The story ends in tragedy. Perhaps, what appears to be most menacing and frightening about this story is the knowledge that we may encounter the same dark side within ourselves and our inability to resolve the inner conflict that results therefrom. There is a strong sense of man’s double being which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature.


Most good people have a deep aversion and would most readily express disgust and contempt for the violence, cruelty, pain and evil that we witness in the pages of history, news and our daily lives. Yet again, many of these ‘good’ people would not flinch at watching a boxer or wrestler beat the life out of his opponent (and would even cheer on the aggressor with maddening ferocity), raise a hand (or more) against his own child in a fit of burning anger, seek murderous revenge against persons whom they perceived have wronged them. It is no surprise that cult (and pulp) videos bearing names such as Shocking Asia, Shocking Africa, Faces of Death (Part One until oblivion) have become regular best-sellers among ordinary people (holding nine-to-five jobs). They would find themselves captivated by scenes of the same violence that they expressly abhor in the news. Violence seems to be a selling point for the mass media as they churned out movie after movie catering to both young and old. Despite what may seem to be apparent, they do not recognise the dichotomy that exists between their expressed higher values and their internal preponderance to violence, cruelty and pain, often excusing their private past-times as merely that, pure entertainment, nothing more. What then of our impassioned religious history? Inquisitions, persecutions, conquests, crusades and holy wars declared in the name of God and religion testify to our capacity for violence and evil.


And so this is why this paper is difficult to write. It is not about ‘them.’ It is about ‘me.’ Our accusations and criticisms of others will eventually come home to roost. How unnerving to discover that what you find is just what you have put into anything. We readily recognise ourselves as the subjects making such a study of the human psyche. Yet, one eventually realises that the subject has ultimately become the object of the study. The intimate character of this whole discussion cannot be in anyway complete without subjecting oneself to the same personal scrutiny which one is prepared to use for another. Of course, this paper is not only about ‘me.’ It’s also about another entity which appears to have a life and mind of its own. We do not need to study multi-personality schizophrenics in order to detect accounts of duplicity of personalities. We can already find this inner tension within ourselves. Of course, most of us are afraid to face our inner conflicts. We prefer to oversimplify, to know only one side of ourselves blinding ourselves to the other side and seeing ourselves as two-dimensional. It is much easier to blame the ‘other,’ to clutter up one’s life with neurotic defenses to cover up that darker side of our soul. Self-knowledge isn’t simple, for we are complex beings. This is why we always try to change others, our environment and situations. But we cannot change anyone else; we can change only ourselves, and then usually only when the elements that are in need of reform have become conscious through their reflection in someone else. Only when the illusions and falsehoods of the self are stripped away can a person see himself for what he really is, at the same time freeing himself to see the world as it really is.


During one night as I had begun collecting material for this paper, I had a dream. I was in a boat in the middle of the sea during twilight hours. The twilight hours are the hours of shadows and shades, where little objects may be magnified to terrifying proportions by the shadows which they throw. It did not occur strange to me then that I was fishing and had been patiently waiting for some time for a catch. A voice from behind, emerging from some unseen dark figure, whispered to me, "Throw in your nets. There’s no catch at this time of the day." I too felt foolish when I contemplated my predicament and was just about to be won over by the suggestion, the cold and the discomfort of sitting in that small boat, when a tug came from the nets. Drawing out my nets, I found myself successful with a bountiful catch of fish.


Despite being burdened by the physical and mental strain of academic research and wearied by painful efforts at introspection, threatened by the monsters of my darker self, and tempted by that enticing voice to just "throw in my nets", my unexpected perseverance has been rewarded by a bountiful catch. The work done here has helped to peel away many illusions and bare the painful yet hopeful truth about myself. There is no splendid climax as yet. When dealing with the unconscious, I humbly acknowledge that there is much (too much sometimes) which remains terra nullius. I understand the need to continue on this journey of self-discovery and illumination. But what has emerged is my recognition that I am an emerging personality, ever-growing, expanding, non-static and not permanently fettered by the chains of circumstances and the past. This has ultimately been a journey in discovering a stranger within (and sometimes foe), befriending him and returning together to continue on that symbolic quest for the Grail, the object not only of chivalrous knights and ascetic holy-men, but of every soul in search for a mended heart.

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