See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil is a proverb taken from a 17th Century carving above the door of a Japanese shrine. The Buddhist depiction of monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouth was meant to impart the lesson that we shouldn’t dwell on evil thoughts. Nowadays this proverb is sometimes used to refer to abandonment of moral responsibility; an illustration of refusal to acknowledge something that is morally or legally wrong.
Although I much prefer the original intent of this proverb, I would like to discuss the second interpretation. It seems like there is just far too much ‘looking the other way’ in the world right now. We all know what comprises evil. And we are quick to point it out after there have been disastrous results—when we have to pick up the pieces. But why don’t we recognize and call out perpetrators of evil deeds long before they get around to performing destructive actions?
Most recently we have seen high profile men—producers, billionaires, priests, coaches (the list goes on)—that have been getting away with evil acts as sexual predators for years. There were people around them that suspected and even knew what was going on. Why didn’t they blow the whistle? Were they afraid? Was it merely convenient to pretend nothing was happening?
For many years now, due to modern technology, videos of racism and gruesome acts of violence have been made public. In some cases, people were watching as this particular brand of evil was progressing. Why didn’t they stand up for what was right? Why didn’t they try to stop it?
But the most important question, the very heart of the matter, is ‘Why don’t we see people for who they are at the outset?” All through my working career, and in my social life as well, I observed a common phenomenon. Rarely did anyone wish to call out manipulative, destructive, bullying, or sociopathic behaviour. These types of people most often got away with violating rules of common decency. Sometimes they were even rewarded for it. Why?
Humans have a lot to answer for these days—environmental destruction, wars, greed …. Perhaps one of the most fundamental ways to crawl out of this mess is to gather enough courage to follow our best instincts. Call out all those that are given to maim others physically, mentally, or emotionally before tragedies happen. As members of the human race, we can do this. We just have to decide what is more important, compassion for others, and our earth or protecting our selfish interests. What’s it going to be? This has become much more than a water-cooler problem. Our very lives hang in the balance.