Illustration by Beyond Franks Grave. Available at Flickr.com.
By now you have heard about the massacre in Colorado. James Holmes painted his hair red, dressed in black, put on a ballistic helmet and gas mask, walked into a movie theater where the midnight showing of Batman was underway, and began shooting. Before the mayhem was over, he had killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others.
I watched the frantic recordings of one of the attendee’s iPhone camera recordings that showed a man walking out of the theater dazed with blood splattered across the back of his shirt–probably from someone who had been sitting behind him.
It is too soon to analyze the motives of this man, but one thing is clear: evil exists.
I know that, in today’s pluralistic society, we don’t like language that sounds exclusivist, but I must admit that I believe Christianity offers the only world view that takes into account the true nature of evil. Psychology, Economics, and brain Science help us to understand many of the contributing factors, but each of these domains fall short when it comes to understanding or explaining evil.
This is because evil is essentially a theological concept. It’s about a spiritual presence that exists in a dimension that is different yet parallel with human experience. It is a personal presence with a malevolent purpose. It is constantly at work under the surface of human interaction. Most often, it works with subtlety and stealth, but occasionally it pops up its ugly head to be seen by all.
We could say many things about evil, but the question that is in my mind as I write this post is this: “What is the responsibility of a leader when faced with real, unqualified, evil?“
I know I’m walking on dangerous ground here; it’s easy to identify something as evil simply because it is different. I’m not denying the fact that we need to understand the social, psychological, and even chemical factors that contribute to anti-social behavior. Certainly, it is a leader’s responsibility to investigate the facts and to consider alternative interpretations.
Nevertheless, there are times when we are faced with raw evil. How do real leaders respond?
Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Wow! Such words are devastating for those who feel fulfilled and comfortable with simply condemning evil. True leaders go beyond this and actually oppose evil. They understand that with genuine evil, there is no compromise; there must be no tolerance. We must oppose evil with the intent to defeat it.
Evil, however, does not always appear with a semi-automatic firing into an innocent crowd. It often sneaks in the back door in tiny, silent, incremental steps: altering a number here, misrepresenting a fact there.
In any case, whether evil appears through subtlety or savagery, good leaders oppose it in their organizations and in society as a whole.
What do you think? Can you share with us some examples of how evil has raised its ugly head in organizations you have known? How was it dealt with? What have you learned? Please share in the comments section below.