Editorial: There’s no such thing as cold water, or The Nature of Good and Evil

My father had a habit of coming up with very poignant yet seemingly simple sayings. His favorite was “life is too important to be taken seriously.” Occasionally, there would be a specific situation in which one of his sayings applied and he made sure to find a way to slip in his little nuggets of wisdom.

One of those situations occurred usually around the time dishes were to be done or someone was going to shower. The nature of the proper temperature of water for either activity would elicit the following from my father:

“There is no such thing as cold water. It’s simply water that is lacking heat.”

As a youngster, this statement perplexed me. However, as I got older and I started to learn in school about the nature of temperature and matter, it made more sense. Matter that lacks heat has been assigned the adjective “cold” by us, but it is simply a word used to contrast the adjective “hot.” But “cold” doesn’t really exist. There are things we can add to matter to make it hot, but there is nothing we can add to matter that makes it cold. Anything we “add” to something to make it cold is simply applying something that removes the heat from the matter it is applied to.

This realization has been rattling around in my head for my entire adult life. While it is useful information, there didn’t seem to be a practical use for it. It wasn’t until a few years ago that something clicked in my head that Dad’s sage slogan finally seemed applicable. I began writing short stories and attempted to write several novels. In this new hobby, I had to contemplate the nature of good and evil. After all, it is the be all and end all of storytelling conflicts. While constructing plots and building character concepts, I had to devise motivations for my characters that were believable and compelling for a reader to get invested in. This led to my research on the psychology of “good people” and “evil people.” It was here where Dad’s words finally rang true.

When talking about a “good” person, we presume that such a person was raised by parents who gave them proper amounts of love and attention, instilled into them morals and values that fit the society they were raised in, fulfilled their needs, and allowed them to grow and discover and learn. Yet, when we talk about an “evil” person, we seem to assume that their nature is innate, inevitable despite having good influences in their life. Their nature is corrupted, tainted, and irreversible. Evil people are forever lost, doomed to be scourges upon society. They deserve to be quarantined from everyone, never to be assimilated into society again. Sending them to their deaths is even a choice on the table when dealing with these people.

However, if one takes a look at the news, it seems more and more that the evidence against innate evil is getting more and more prevalent. An investigation into every murderer, rapist, terrorist, mugger, child molester, and thief generally reveals that these people had absentee parents, mental disorders, and were products of violence themselves. They were denied some or all of their basic needs, had no one to teach them morality, had medical issues that were improperly treated or ignored altogether. They were not presented with opportunities to better themselves, or were given sub-par chances. They were victims of violence and their developing brains associated violence with normal behavior and continue that cycle in adulthood.

So what does all this have to do with hot and cold water?

“There is no such thing as evil. It is simply good people lacking love.”

Good people had love applied to them as children. Their families modeled behavior that showed the person that by making sure people’s needs were met, they were given opportunities to gain knowledge and grow, and were shown that the people around them deserved to be treated the same way. We presume this to be the default way to behave as a species and as a society. Anything that deviates from this behavior has negative effects on a person.

People we deem evil are not innately evil, per se. They are simply lacking someone showing them love. Somewhere in their lives, they were denied love, or had a behavior thrust upon them (violence or some other kind of physical trauma) that removed love from them. In reaction to this, these people continue this behavior as their brains are conditioned to think it is normal. Any show of love, compassion, or empathy is considered weakness in their eyes. This world view compels these people to continue their destructive behavior.

The evidence to support this can be seen in the success rates of rehabilitation of prisoners. According to an article published in the journal of the National Institute of Justice, written by
Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center Joan Petersilia:

There is scientific evidence that prison and parole programs can reduce recidivism. It is not easy and it is not inexpensive, but it is possible.

By developing programs that allow inmates to earn high school diplomas, receive vocational training, providing drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and improving these services in under-served communities, Petersilia foresees a reduction of recidivism (felons being incarcerated again after being released from prison) by 15 to 20 percent.

“To put it in concrete terms,” Petersilia explains, “about 495,000 of the 750,000 prisoners who will be released this year are likely to be rearrested within three years. With effective programs, we could reduce the number of repeat offenders by nearly 100,000.”

By providing “evil” people with ways to grow and gain knowledge, fulfill their basic needs, and show them compassion, empathy, and love, we prevent them from continuing their “evil” behavior.

There is no such thing as evil. It is simply people lacking love.

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