The Root of Evil
Updated: Feb 27
We have all heard the saying that “money is the root of all evil.” Though I can see how that saying can appear true in many cases I would argue that it is actually much more harmful than truthful. If money becomes the only or primary motivation of your life then it will likely cause a great deal of pain and devastation whether you are able to obtain vast amounts of it or not. However, money isn’t evil and having and wanting money is not bad. Money is a source of energy and tool for exchange in modern society, it can represent things like status or freedom and can be used as a powerful tool to create more freedom or restriction. In and of itself money is neutral. The only meaning it has is the meaning we attribute to it.
The root of evil is not money, but last week it occurred to me that the root of many types of evil might be something unexpected—it could be goodness. From a dualistic perspective, goodness or the concept of what it means to be good would naturally both create and be created from its opposite. From that perspective goodness is both the opposite and creator of evil. However, even if you don’t accept the premise that opposites create each other the idea that goodness—or more specifically the concept that there is such a thing as goodness lends itself to the creation of prolonged pain and acts that could very easily be defined as evil.
How does this work?
It works because as soon as we define something as good, we define things that are not that thing as “not good”. The human psyche is naturally good (no one can see themselves as a bad guy without either enduring a great deal of intense pain or justifying their perceived “badness”). The reason we feel pain when we think of ourselves as “not good” is because there is an inherent desire to be good within us, there is an inherent desire to be accepted by ourselves and our society. The idea of good is the standard of characteristics that we believe we need to ascribe to for acceptance. We cannot inherently believe that we are bad—even people who have done a great deal of destruction and by most standards would be considered the epitome of evil will see themselves as either justified in their actions or victims to influences and circumstances beyond their control.
This need to be good reflects a spiritual truth- there is an eternal inner knowing that as living creatures we are good. No one is really truly evil. Naturally we are free-spirited beings, but when we define some parts of ourselves or some types of people or some actions as good, we also imply that other parts, people, and actions are bad. The intense suppression of these parts creates pain, and since we normally define acts of evil as those actions which produce extreme amounts of pain then the very act of suppressing something, we consider bad creates and actions associated with evil.
We could get into a lengthy debate about what this means in terms of serial killers and saints, but for the purpose of this post I would rather re-direct this idea to a more personal and practical application.
The reason this perspective matters at all has to do with how it sneaks into our day to day life. In our own lives we have learned to see some things as good and others as not good. Since we want to be good by our own definition of what that means we try to follow through on the things that we see as good while neglecting or suppressing the things that aren’t good. This doesn’t usually work, what ends up happening is we create a lot of pain by ignoring or disowning parts of ourselves and our own needs. Often the things we disown would actually improve our quality of life dramatically if we allowed them to.
I know that this is still vague so I’ll give an example. Let’s say that I value hard work and de-value laziness. This means that I will go through my day working hard and doing my best to distance myself from being lazy. Lazy, though, is not actually bad. Lazy is actually a form of rest which we all need to be healthy, happy, and whole. Lazy can also be a moment to step back and enjoy life as it is instead of trying to control and direct it, and lazy cannot actually be avoided. If we work ourselves too hard for too long we will eventually create a health crisis that will require a certain extreme level of “laziness”. If we did not define lazy as something bad we could rest much sooner and learn to be present and enjoy life. We could alternate between periods of activity and periods of rest without causing ourselves guilt and other forms of distress and since we tend to respond to others based on how we are feeling we would likely be kinder to other people when they took time for themselves instead of calling them lazy and despising them for not depriving themselves of that part of their life.
By labeling things and people as bad or evil we disown them. We separate and shun them and doing this causes pain. The pain then creates a reaction which we often find disruptive. We label this reaction as even more evil and create more pain which will create a bigger reaction and the cycle goes on.
If instead of falling into this trap we could learn to see ourselves and each other as we actually are—beautiful, worthy, loving creatures who want to be free to express themselves and loved for that expression—we would create far less pain in the world.
This might seem farfetched to some people—and depending on how strongly you believe in the goodness or badness of certain traits it could be triggering—but I would argue radical acceptance of all of our qualities and parts would go much further toward eradicating evil than waging war against things we view as unacceptable.
Remember that strengths and weaknesses are usually the same, they are just perceived differently depending on the situation. Similarly, heroes and villains often have the same qualities but will be treated very differently depending on the perspective of those describing them. Good and evil are not really so different from one another but treating them like they are creates discrepancies that split people apart and increase divisions and opposition to each other.