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Featured Article

Deepak Chopra's picture
April 11, 2022
by Deepak Chopra

The question of evil can crop up almost anytime, but it becomes pressing when war, with its mass violence and atrocities fills the news. Violence comes in many other forms, as we all know, so settling the questions about evil needs to be addressed.

Evil manifests in the world through actions, and although an evil act almost always is associated with violence, there are other aspects, such as destructiveness, oppression, and victimization. Yet to understand evil, we need to stick with actions. Having bad thoughts, bursting out in anger, and saying in the heat of an argument, “I could kill you” fall short of an evil act.

All actions, whether labeled good or bad, are based in a thought, feeling, or impulse. So where do evil thoughts come from? Answering this question is the only way to get at the root of evil. Let me present the view that evil is a learned behavior. No one is born evil, and there is no cosmic satanic force that destines human beings to be evil.

A learned behavior that leads to extreme violence or wrongdoing has the same factors behind it as neutral or even good actions. The major factors are

Upbringing and the morality a child absorbs

Social pressure and conditioning

Lack of self-awareness

Poor impulse control

Anger and the potential for violence

Inner conflict

The presence or absence of fear

Unconscious, irrational impulses

Human nature isn’t inherently evil, but if these factors take a wrong turn in someone’s life — or the life of an entire society — evil gains a toehold. A child who witnesses domestic violence is more likely to commit domestic violence later in life. A society rife with prejudice, bigotry, and us-versus-them thinking will justify its violence, turning evil into something necessary and even morally right. We speak of “good” wars to justify mass killing and destruction, which turns into a self-perpetuating cycle since the enemy also believe it is fighting a good war.

There is no getting around the fact that human beings are conflicted, which means that negative impulses inside us are at war with their opposite. This is the price of free will...

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