tendrils of evil, weeds and people

The best time to weed is after a rain, so this morning was a great time to get in the garden and dig out the newest batch of weeds.  I use this time for reflection and meditation.  There exists the obvious parallels to weeding the garden and weeding out the negative influences in our life.  Or surprisingly,  even the recognition that sometimes we think that something is bad and it turns out to be good(like dandelions)!  All sorts of odd thoughts can pop up as I weed.

The Poppy Family, had a hit song in the 70’s called “Where Evil Grows”…check it out(The Poppy Family-Where Evil Grows. you tube).  I remember every word to that song even though I was only 7 when it came out.  As I dig in my garden, these are the words that always come to mind:

Evil grows in the dark, where the sun never shines
Evil grows in cracks and holes and lives in people’s minds.

I came in from my morning chores and swim, to sit with Pat and read The Globe and Mail.  Interesting that the lead story in the Focus section is entitled “The Anatomy of Evil”.  The article is lengthy and speaks to the many theories surrounding the continued presence of evil in our highly evolved world.  It notes that scientists are investigating another layer to continued evil, beyond the obvious factors of social and physical abuses suffered in childhood.  Presented is the supposition that evil can also be traced neurologically.  That the connections to the part of the brain that supports empathy can be turned off purposefully in order that evil acts can be perpetrated.

Cambridge psychopathology researcher, Simon Baron Cohen, says that early childhood nurturing is the pot of gold.  The absence of which “affects brain development, probably irreversibly”.  I remember years ago, a young man in Goderich was on trial for the death of two people as a result of his drunk driving.  A woman I know said : “oh that’s John Doe…that’s no surprise, his family were losers.  He’s a loser too”.  I would agree that driving drunk is a loser thing to do, but the unequivocal belief that this young man was a loser just because his family was bothered me.  Were there no teachers, clergy, doctors or neighbours that would offer any seeds of hope and understanding to the boy as he was growing up?  If we agree that it takes a village to raise a child, then do we all not have some level of complicity when children grow up to be bad or evil?  I do believe in the over-riding necessity of personal responsibility; but I don’t believe that a child comes into the world intending to be bad.

I know a number of teachers, Pats aunts Anne and Margaret among them, that seemed to see this.  They saw and worked with inner city kids, and from what I can tell, helped them by holding them up to the same standards of all the other kids.  My friend Heather does the same thing.  That in and of itself shows respect.  Instead of saying “oh those kids come from a bad family” and not giving them the time of day; what would happen if we chose to look past the dirty clothes, soiled hair, and poor grooming and saw the human being?  What would happen if we placed the same expectations on them, gave them the same encouragement and support we so willingly give to the bright and pleasant kids.  If we are so sure in stating that a criminal can “turn-off” neural pathways in order to commit crimes, then is it not true that those same neurons are turned-off by us, in order to ignore a struggling child?  Both cut off the circuitry to access empathy.

I was one of those kids that would have been labelled coming from “a loser family”.  I remember taunts, and I remember that some teachers treated those of us who did not belong to the right family with indifference and sometimes disdain.  I wanted to be on the other side of the classroom where the sun shone for some.  I don’t know how or why I worked so hard to grow beyond imposed limitations, but I did.  As I worked, more people came into my life that supported my growth.  I had a track coach that didn’t care about my family or where I grew up.  His expectations of me helped to later define the expectations I place upon myself.

I remember one difficult practice, where I was feeling really sad(he didn’t know this) about some stuff going on at home, and it was affecting my performance, dialogue and efforts.  He called me on it.  He said that if I was going to come to practice carrying around negative thoughts then not to bother coming.  A verbal smack up side the head.  It was a tough lesson, but so valuable.   I also learned that it was important to validate the sadness, but that there was a time and a place.

When we ignore the weeds, we allow them to grow stronger in the damp and dark….same as people.  For these reasons, I will look at the tattooed, surly gas pump attendant and I will say thank-you.  I will smile at the pocked, bad teeth woman at the check-out because I am just a bad decision away from them.  I take that back..I am one of them.