Magazine article USA TODAY

The Evil-Doers Amongst Us

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Evil-Doers Amongst Us

Article excerpt

MY PUBLISHER ASSERTS that perhaps one of my fellows on the editorial board of this publication would deny it. I will .leave it to readers to take a guess on who that may be. I would assert that evil does exist. It is as pernicious as tuberculosis, and that is not the only similarity.

Early in the progression of TB, the patent is unaware of the infection, feels quite well, and even may radiate apparent good health. It is typical for someone in the first weeks or months of an active tuberculosis infection to be quite attractive. There may be a few pounds of weight lost and mild nervous energy; the cheeks glow and the eyes shine. All of these are evidence of the terrible silent spread of infectious decay, most often through the lungs, creating irreversible damage. Evil, likewise, can be attractive. The joking, gossiping friend who is lighthearted and never takes anything too seriously may seem far more attractive than the respectful friend. A little disregard for the rules, a little devil-may-care (oh, he does) freedom with the facts is much more fun than your trying-to-be-good-hearted psychology instructor, who asserts that adults who use radar detectors may not have progressed beyond the very lowest level of psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg's hierarchy of moral reasoning.

Evil as an act of commission is easy to identify, although the number of people who steal cable service from neighbors, office supplies from employers, and pretend not to notice when they receive too much change reveal chronic unwillingness to engage in self-examination. Evil as the omission of the virtue of charity, meaning love or compassion, is just as pervasive and noxious but, like carbon monoxide, fatal, or nearly so, if not detected early.

Very often, we see it in a callous disregard for the precious humanity of others. Here is a case in point: 43-year-old Inga Marie Swanson, of Hernando County, Fla., was shot and killed recently when she intruded--naked, disoriented, and waving an antique firearm--on a private gathering. Law enforcement will sort the sad facts; my point concerns two incidents earlier that day, in which the same woman, wandering naked down the road, encountered two men. The first time they asked her if she was okay, and she said, "Yes, but I'm confused" and wandered off into the woods. They took a picture of her retreating backside with a cell phone, but never thought to use that phone to call 911 and report a disoriented, naked, and helpless woman.

The same two men saw her later, when she approached with a cross in hand and said something vaguely religious, and wandered away. Again, they did not call for help. Like Ham mocking Noah, her degradation merely was humorous. At some point, she went home, retrieved her boyfriend's antique black powder handgun, and ended up in someone's backyard party, dead. How many people saw her wandering and did nothing, seeing her nakedness as risible, but never saw her as the human being she was? She is dead. Many people undoubtedly loved her. Forty-four years ago, her mother whispered to her yet unborn, and now in a semi-rural county, men who surely think of themselves as good people failed to take the simplest steps to protect someone who was intensely vulnerable. I saw them interviewed on the local television station and, to their credit, one admitted a female friend asked later why he did not call 911 when he first encountered the woman, and he could not think why not. …

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