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Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's Easy to be Evil

This morning, I was thinking about what I found so upsetting about people who neglect their responsibilities, ignore their deadlines, and fail to pay attention to the duties of their position. Then I remembered some key books that hit on the crux of the issue.

Dickens creates an unforgettable portrait of that type of evil in Bleak House. Harold Skimpole plays the role of the helpless infant who must depend on others because he just can't be responsible. Jarndyce acts generously with him because he sees him as helpless. But Dickens points out that the pose of helplessness itself is manipulative, and Skimpole is quite capable when it comes to scheming. In real life, too, I've found that people who put on the act of being too overwhelmed to remember that they have to get back to you and so cause inconvenience or even serious loss are not truly good at heart but devoid of heart like Skimpole.

To move to the world of nonfiction, in one of his books, M. Scott Peck identifies which of his clients are evil. One of them is a young woman whose preference is to keep driving when her car's gas gauge shows empty. She considers it a game to see how far she could go.But when she really runs out of gas, the burden of getting her mobile again falls on others. While Peck recounts the bad taste of gas in his mouth -- for he had to get the gas out of his own car by first sucking on a tube, he realizes that he is serving someone who is not merely careless but evil, for she demonstrates no concern for the consequences her choices inflict on others.

That's why the title is "It's Easy to be Evil." This is the form of evil that doesn't require the genius type of villain who hatches an elaborate plot to take over the world. That really is limited to the realm of thrillers. In real life, most evil is the result of just taking it easy -- ignoring the warning signs, the fact that someone is waiting for your call back or return email,   doing what you feel like doing at the moment rather than what you should be doing.

It is the type of behavior that makes managers just leave the report you submitted on time untouched for days or weeks and then expect you to turn in a new draft the day they finally bother to say they want changes.  This is the type of behavior that makes the bus driver come late every morning, keeping other people waiting and anxious. They're the ones who have no compunctions about letting down the people who are counting on them.  As a consequence of their neglect, the person who is committed to responsibility ends up looking bad and may even end up losing the job due to the fact that the person they are forced to rely on just couldn't be bothered.  That's the ultimate evil -- causing others to suffer for your own neglect.

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