Evil is suffering passed to someone else
When I was two, my mother broke my arm because I couldn't stop crying. Part One -- suffering in My mother had dreamed of having children, but she struggled with rage. Looking back now, I know she was horrified and ashamed by what she had done. To my mother, evil was something that made her feel bad, after my broken arm that something was me. It eased her discomfort to believe that she was only responding to my true nature. She was a victim, if you will, of her child's darkness. She was able to convince each of her four children, including me, of this "truth" and disastrous consequences curse my family to this day. And yet, I am quite lucky.
Part Two -- suffering out When I was about four, my father found me in the backyard killing insects. He told me later that he saw some joy in my body language, some delight in my eyes that frightened him and he tried to imagine what his father would have done. He sat down near me and saying nothing, he started looking at one of the bugs I'd smashed. Soon I came over to see what he was doing. "Look," he said, "Where do you think he was going?" I squatted beside him and looked. "His mommy is very busy with the other little bugs at home," he said. He told me a story about a little bug who was always getting in trouble, but this morning his mommy trusted him to go to the store for her. She gave him a quarter and told him to bring home a loaf of bread. "Is she waiting for him?" I wanted to know. "I imagine she is," he said. I started to cry. I sat in his lap and sobbed and hiccuped and cried again. I covered his shirt in tears. (He tells me he was sure he had screwed everything up.) Finally I stopped crying. I told him, "I know what we can do." We picked up the little bug, very carefully in a leaf and carried him to where we decided his mother's house was. We set him gently in the dirt and went to have some ice cream. For much of that summer I could be found squatting over ant hills, following little beetles, watching, wondering. Part Three -- The dynamics of suffering and compassion and evil If you have ever had your heart broken or lost someone you love, you know the way emotional pain can move around inside you - shutting your throat, twisting in your stomach, pressing down on your heart. This traveling pain is my definition of suffering - "emotion" comes from the Latin emovere, which literally means to move. When suffering is upon us we have two options. We can process and digest it or we can pass it on. Processing emotional pain can be as silent as pressing our hands to our chest and rocking back and forth, or it can be as loud as a scream that starts in your throat and tunnels down through your gut, through your knees, and tears a channel into the earth. Working through pain can happen in an instant, when you finally stop running, drop your hands and invite what's been chasing you to kill you if it must. Or the process can last years, playing hide and seek with the sweetness of a memory. In time, the processed suffering may transform into wisdom or compassion. My definition of evil is suffering passed along to someone else. In the process, whatever started the pain is lost and the energy moves as revenge or cruelty until someone else can bring it to ground. In July 1995, 8000 men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica. Later, there was an interview where a man justified his part in the murder. He explained that his son had been killed by Bosnian Muslims. I remember being floored. How could it be that someone who had suffered the loss of a child could ever want anyone else to feel that way? But of course, what he was hoping to do was to not feel the loss, to turn it into heat and blast it on to someone else's heart. Tears are the original holy water. I learned how not to be evil on my father's lap.