We Can All Be Ordinary Heroes

Carol A. Hand

Is there evil in the world? As I read the news today, I ponder this question yet again when I see a picture of Scott Walker with an article about his ideas for repealing and replacing Obamacare. I’m no fan of this ill-constructed legislation that supports corporations – insurance companies that provide no health care or useful life-affirming products and drug companies that fail to heal and at best, merely anesthetize. But he’s just one face that represents the war against joy, freedom, and life. A windigo made visible?

The_Wendigo_by_Ashere

Photo Credit: Windigo, by Ashere

Yes, I remember the colleague who once asked me the meaning of a gesture made by a former Native American friend who became an enemy. “Can you tell me what this means from a Native American perspective?,” she asked. “My partner and I gave our friend a gift, a beautiful vase made by a famous Native artist. [I can’t remember which artist these many years later.] After a disagreement, she sent us a package. Inside the package, we found the pieces of the vase we had given her. It had been pulverized. Does this have any special significance?”

She seemed sincere in her question, but her partner, also present, scowled. I decided to reply honestly. “I can’t really say what it meant in her tribal culture, but some Ojibwe people believe that objects hold the energy of the giver. Gifts from people whose actions hurt others are felt to carry bad medicine. Things that they gave or touched are disposed of or returned to the giver.

Her partner shouted in reply. “You can’t REALLY believe that NONSENSE! You’re an EDUCATED woman!

I decided to reply. “Yes, educated in two cultures to a certain degree. Your partner asked a question that I did my best to answer truthfully.”

But does evil exist? I always try to see the good in others and the world, but as I look around at the state of the world today, the evidence is rather compelling. Destroying other’s careers as these two women did? Killing others because you can? Because you want something they have, because you don’t like the color of their skin or where they were born? Denying them an opportunity to live, love, eat?

In my work as an advocate, I have had to stand against powerful, charismatic people who were doing harm by enticing and encouraging others to feed their own insecurities and appetites. Sometimes you create powerful enemies by taking a stand for integrity. I remember one in particular. Years passed after our battle and some of the damage she left in her wake had been healed. Who could predict our paths would cross again in the most unlikely of places – a national conference on the Queen Mary dry-docked in Long Beach, CA? We were both selected as presenters.

The workshop I presented with a colleague from Wyoming was one of the highlights of the conference. The standing-room-only audience was excited and energized. Afterwards, my colleague, his partner, and I toured the coast. Exhausted after the long day, I went to my tiny room below deck, with only a small porthole to view the harbor and shore. I fell into a deep sleep and had the most disturbing nightmare of my life.

I found myself in a dark, cavernous space. My body was covered with oozing sores and I was struggling to breathe. The guide who has spoken to me in other, more uplifting dreams, said, “This is evil.” I replied , “I don’t believe evil really exists.” Breathing became more difficult and the pain more excruciating. The guide repeated, “This is evil. You need to admit it.” “No, I can’t believe that,” I said. As I struggled to keep breathing, I knew I was dying. One final time the guide repeated, “This is evil. If you won’t face the fact that it exists, you will die.”

(My choice is obvious. I’m still here to write these memories. I don’t know if I would be had I made another choice. ) I survived and woke up in a sweat with my heart pounding as I sucked in air. It was four in the morning. I began packing, intent on getting a cab to the airport as soon as possible.

Does evil exist? I believe all of us are capable of doing incredible things, both good and bad. If the only powerful examples we have encourage us to lose hope, to doubt that kindness matters, needless suffering, death, and environmental destruction will continue to exist. Is keeping hope and kindness alive through our thoughts and actions in dark times the path of the hero’s journey that Joseph Campbell wrote about? I don’t know.

Opportunities to find deeper power within ourselves come when life seems most challenging. (Joseph Campbell)

candle

Photo: Sending Light to the Four Directions

Living the light as best we can may not be enough, but it’s what we can choose to do.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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42 Responses to We Can All Be Ordinary Heroes

  1. Gator Woman says:

    Love this Carol!!!!!Completely agree and have experienced it as well~

    Liked by 2 people

  2. desilef says:

    I struggle with this too – that I can’t believe anyone is born evil, but people certainly do grow into or become possessed with the ability to commit very evil acts and promote evil ideas. Maybe the entity/concept of Windigo is the best explanation we’re likely to get.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I appreciate you thoughtful comments, Diane. It’s fascinating because I was thinking about your comment about the importance of dissent when I decided to post this. (You pointed out a little publicized research finding. Questioning abusive policies and behaviors did reduce willingness to comply with authority in Stanley Milgram’s studies.)

      Like

  3. sojourner says:

    I had experienced a similar dream many years ago, at a time the life I had come to know and embrace was suddenly being ripped apart right in front of me. And I could do nothing to stop it, because, to an extent, I had brought it on my self.

    It was a dream that I recognized as evil itself physically attacking me, attempting to imprison and destroy me. It came in the form of a witch-like figure with claws, and its claws were holding my head and face captive so I could not awaken. I remember, distinctly, being awake in the dream. but I couldn’t open my eyes or fight off the attacker. Suddenly, I managed to get my eyes open and I was wide awake. And I mean wide awake with full recognition of what had just happened.

    There is an ancient philosophy that states evil is as much a part of life as good; one cannot exist without the other. After my dream, one of many like it, I cannot help but agree.

    There is more to life than just the material, much more. But of course, we live in an age where this is considered passe and superstitious.

    A wonderful message once again, Carol! Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is a frightening nightmare, Sojourner. I’m glad you awakened.

      Perhaps the ancient philosophies are correct – yin and yang, good and evil, suffering and joy are all part of the balance of life. Thank you for sharing this likely possibility, was well as the insight that life is much more than material. I appreciate your kind and thoughtful comments a great deal 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  4. sojourner says:

    I had to look this up, but I think it applies:

    Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.
    Mahatma Gandhi

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for sharing this, Sojourner. I’m not sure I can agree with Gandhi’s observation without more information about the context. It brought to mind the kindness of a neighbor who saved my life when I was 4. Giving a child a glass of water with an apple peel from a special tree is hardly important. But the kindness behind this gift that gave me a reason to live. Smiles from strangers, kind words from friends, or even cruelty, can inspire us to make important contributions that touch the lives of others in ways we may never know. What is important is simply making kindness about others, not about our own egos or desire for rewards or public acclaim.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. This topic is as relevant today as it has been in a very long time. As societal stresses mount, behaviors turn negative and people resort to demonization in morally desperate attempts to make sense of the insanity around them. It reminds me of a comment I offered on a similar post:

    “My contention has been that the ideas of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are manifestations of human psychology which desires delineations between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as an expedient way to form judgments in lieu of available facts and/or time-consuming deliberations.
    In other words, it’s easier to jump to definitively profound conclusions rather than relying on comprehensive rational thought.
    If our species is to survive, it must stop focusing on the subjectively perceived morality of individuals and start focusing on the objectively reasoned ethics of behavior. People are neither innately good nor bad, but they do commit both beneficial and detrimental acts.”

    Regarding Obamacare, I too thought it was ill-conceived. But, It definitely has improved my health since enrolling in it early last year (previously, I had no health care coverage at all).

    Liked by 2 people

    • I appreciate your comments about the danger of relying on the simplistic polarity of good/evil contrasts. Elegantly reasoned and eloquently said, Robert.

      I’m glad to know that Obamacare has improved your access to medical care. I trust it has done the same for many others – an important benefit despite a disappointing policy. I truly wish we had been able to eliminate insurance and drug company hegemony in the process by creating universal healthcare. Yes, I know this was probably the best that could be done at the time. And I am grateful to know it has improved people’s lives.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. sojourner says:

    This is what I take from Ghandi’s quote here. But your right, I don’t know the context.

    Yes, caring for others should have no strings attached.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hsampson says:

    Thanks Carol, once again a wonderful post!!
    I would say that your colleagues were “educated” in just one culture, and unfortunately in that culture we forget that even our science and knowledge keeps evolving, so talking about something they don´t know was not very educated in any culture, but anyway.
    I believe evil and good exist, I have met people who are the personification of evil and their deeds are something that “nobody in their senses” would do. But there are a lot of reasons for their behaviour. The same for people I have met who are the walking good itself!
    Depending on what we are trying to pinpoint here I would agree with those schools of thought which say you need both extremes of the scale available to you in order to find your own balance.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. hsampson says:

    And yes, you are a hero!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Of all the various descriptions of evil attempted, the love of money seems to cover the majority of historical evil/harmful actions.
    “Good is all that serves life, evil is all that serves death. Good is reverence for life… and all that enhances life. Evil is all that stifles life, narrows it down, cuts it to pieces.” – Erich Fromm
    Mr. Fromm’s description fits as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Dear, Carol, I loved that you shared your experience here with everyone. I truly do believe in good and evil in the world. There people that have committed heinous crimes of humanity and we shake our heads wondering how is this possible that someone could do something so horrible without remorse or feelings at all. It is those times that Evil has raised it’s head and it becomes blaring obvious to me. I believe there is a yin and yang, good and evil, positive and negative in life.

    I’m like you in that I try to see the best in people and have a positive hope in another person and the relationships that may develop. Until I see otherwise and have to distance myself from negativity. I choose to be happy and hopeful in life, having compassion and empathy. Dreams are sometimes a manifestation of the energies that are playing out around you. Much Love and Peace to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I appreciate the important insights about good and evil that you shared in you comments, Barbara. Choosing hope, compassion, and empathy is a heroes journey. Thank you for giving voice to your important perspective, and for your kindness 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I think negative energy – where spiteful and malicious people deliberately set out to hurt others – is very real. When individuals lack sufficient positive energy to overcome the negative, it’s probably safest to avoid it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Important observations about negative energy, Stuart. Sometimes, dealing with it has felt unavoidable to me when it was being targeted toward people who were vulnerable. But I am getting better at avoiding petty provocations…

      Like

  12. Carol, I enjoy reading the discussions your blogs provoke. As you know in every traditional culture there is dark and light – opposites as in nature the balance of all. I think the Gandhi quote was coming from a point of not being attached to our actions or expecting results. We know he lived a life of action dedicated to helping his nation. All of us have the potential for dark and light. As I see it, from a Buddhist perspective, we all must overcome the internal poisons of greed, desire, hatred, anger, and ignorance the fuel of “evil” in order to be “good.” I can’t claim to remember my past lives. But when I was in 4th grade, I knew I always was and always will be. In the past I’ve been light and I was dark. This time around, just like you and most of your readers, we’re conscious and striving to spread the light. That’s all we have to do.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing such crucial insights from the Buddhist perspective, Skywalker. It often seems easier to look outside ourselves to assign blame, but we do all “have the potential for dark and light.”

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Debra says:

    I have no trouble believing evil exists. Just look at the relentless destruction around us. I do wonder if courage exists. All this irrevocable destruction for an endless hunger for transitory stuff. For the illusion of real wealth which could be freely available to all. I can imagine what your colleague was really asking. The message inside the box was loud and clear from any perpective. To ask what it meant from a Native American perspective just sounds racist. Like, was she really looking for sympathy because her ‘generous’ ‘gift’ was destroyed? sigh. This culture that I grew up in where things are always more precious than people just makes me sick.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As always, I value your thoughtful comments and important insights, Debra. And so eloquently said – “All this irrevocable destruction for an endless hunger for transitory stuff. For the illusion of real wealth which could be freely available to all.” I continue to reflect on effective ways to address the holes in souls that cannot be filled with “transitory stuff” or power…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Debra says:

        If you come up with something please let the world know.The only thing I can think of to cure this disease of wanting more and more garbage is to show people what a real treasures look like and to maybe slowly build a love of the land. To show them what is at stake and what is being lost. I think the land ethic that Aldo Leopold wrote about starts from that place of love. But that kind of information isn’t really enough is it? I mean, the people who already care about the land and who really care about human suffering already know this stuff. How do we reach the ones who don’t get it?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Such important insights, and the most challenging question – “how do we reach the one’s who don’t get it?” May be the answer is to reach the next generation – but how do we do that when all of the dominant institutions are set up to reproduce the current paradigm?

          Like

        • Debra, just as I said to Susan. We keep doing our work. The power of thought is immense, the power of positive thought a great fountain for change. We must not get discouraged by the illusions being pushed by mass media and distractions like Trump. We must remember we are the force for light and grace and growth. If we look at the traditional peoples and religions that still hold the kernels of truth and grace, we must just remain strong in our knowledge that all is well and will be well because – even though it’s hard to believe – we are all part of one essential being in consciousness. Some are just ignorant of this reality. And it may take some many life times to realize we are all one. Ultimately consciousness, as energy, cannot be destroyed and it surpasses any of our passing pains and sufferings. Know this and you find answers to your questions.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. susanissima says:

    Thought-stimulating piece, Carol.

    Does evil exist and, if so, what does it look like? Disfunction, selfishness, greed, indifference to the suffering, pain, and circumstances of others and our planet?

    When I look at Donald Trump ranting in the media about building walls, and tearing apart birth rights, blaming specific groups of people for economic and criminal problems that are clearly societal, bragging about how he will use 1 billion dollars of his own money to basically buy the presidency of our country (instead of using it to help shelter, feed and provide medical support for our homeless, our needy, elders), I know I’m looking at evil.

    But worse is when I see fellow citizens in growing numbers believing that Trump is actually a solution, instead of a metaphor for the ills pervading our country. Then, I’m reminded of how Hitler, too, ranted at the masses in a similarly vicious and accusatory manner, and yet he was elected. We know the rest of that horror story. Thank you for helping us to stay awake, Carol.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for such pivotal comments, Susan. I have to admit I’m surprised that Trump gets so much air time. He’s so incredibly brash, bombastic, and sophomoric. But you’re right, I think. He finds vulnerable scapegoats to blame and enflames others’ fears and anger, deflecting attention away from real issues and humane alternatives. The consequences of our government’s unwillingness to address human suffering are a manifestation of heartlessness and “evil.”

      I know we are all doing what we can to voice different options, and I’m grateful that we have an online group that provides encouragement to each other to keep trying. I’m grateful you are one of them 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Susan, and what you’ve said is exactly why we have to continue to write and speak out. I firmly believe in the power of thought and as long as we continue to express our positive thoughts we can stem the tide of ignorance that Trump represents.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Bernadette says:

    This was a very powerful story about the presence of evil in the world. I will think about it for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. themofman says:

    Yes, evil does exist.

    Also, there really is a war between good and evil. It is not some idea created for movies or non-fiction books. It’s real.

    Liked by 1 person

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