In the first book of my series, one of the ancillary characters talks about the darkness of the soul, and in the second book, another character speaks to his belief that no one is truly good by nature, that all mortals are inclined to evil.
Some of my characters disagree with this philosophy, and believe that mortals are basically good who are influenced by their society and culture.
I’ve grown up hearing both arguments. When I was younger, I couldn’t believe that the former was possible except for a few people like Hitler or other obviously evil people. As a child during the Vietnam War, I experienced minimal bullying and evil was something I saw only on TV, never something I could truly relate to simply because my family members, friends, teachers, and most others I associated with showed me kindness.
As I’ve aged, I’ve witnessed atrocities on an ever-increasing scale. I’ve raised three teenagers. Most everyone around me has disappointed me or let me down at some point, sometimes unintentionally, but often on purpose. Then there’s myself. I’ve committed plenty of evils. Nothing illegal: no murders or child porn or rape. However, the lies I’ve told, my deceptions, the hate I’ve mostly kept bottled up inside (except when I’m driving by myself), all have convinced me that I am not a very nice person. I have a pretty good veneer, but that’s all it is.
While I’ve certainly observed some crazies and fanatics over the decades, I’ve mostly seen that the old adage of ‘There but the grace of God go I’ is unfortunately too true. Many will say, “Oh, I could never do something like that!” The truth is that one little mistake or just the right push and yes, any one of us would do something like that. Sometimes, it’s a betrayal, such as an affair by a spouse. Often it’s nothing more than something happens that’s outside our control or our expectations aren’t met.
If nothing else could convince me, it’s the comments I read at the bottom of a news report on CNN or Foxnews, or those in the general chat of the MMO I play. Cruelty is common, as is trashing anyone with the opposing political party or someone with a religious view.
However, the true deciding factor for me in how I view humanity is understanding how narcissistic most every person I’ve observed or met really is. By the time children are two, they know too well how to take what they desire, no matter who it belongs to. We teach self-esteem in school as one of the most important virtues. We file lawsuits at the slightest hint of being offended. We flock to affair sites by the millions because we are told we deserve more.
I marvel at how often we tell ourselves how amazing and wonderful we are as if we need to endlessly convince ourselves. Narcissism has become the blood that flows through us. It’s news when someone helps another human because it seems to happen so rarely, and we call them heroes.
I think we call it an act of heroism because we dream of being brave and courageous, and of being honorable, and in our self-centered ways, a simple act of kindness represents all three of those ideals. Any people that could set such a low bar to be a hero are clearly not good whatsoever, but floundering for a breath of goodness as they sink in their own morass of evil.
This is what I call The Darkness of the Soul. Our hearts are soiled and filthy but we’ve painted a white picket fence veneer and we don’t want to look any deeper than the veneer. That takes real courage and bravery, because looking at our soul disgusts us. We tell ourselves to trust our hearts as if they will tell us a greater truth than reason, but we’re assuming that we’ll listen to that white picket fence veneer and not the dark reality of what lies in the depths of our soul.
When you next read about the latest atrocity, look deep inside and ask yourself if that couldn’t have been you who committed it. If you have courage, you’ll search past the veneer and into the darkness of your own soul.