Evil Feels Good: Think Before You Act


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Evil feels good. That is why it is so hard for us to know that our actions may have evil consequences. Consequences show whether actions are evil or not. Intentions mean nothing when another person is greatly harmed.

This article uses a case study of a young man who committed suicide after his college roommate posted a video of him being intimate with another man. The man who videotaped was just having fun. He did not think about how the videotaped young man would feel. He only thought about the fun he was having. The lesson learned is to think before you act, no matter how much fun you think you are going to have, or how good doing something will make you feel.

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Evil Feels Good: Think Before You Act

  1. 1. Roots of Violence, Seeds of Change<br />An Occasional Publication for Persons Interested in Violence Prevention<br />In order to prevent violence, we have to understand it<br />______________________________________________________________________________________<br />Volume 1, Number 2 September 2010 ______________________________________________________________________________<br />Evil Feels Good:<br /> Think Before You Act<br />By Jane Gilgun<br />“Consequences show whether actions are evil or not.”<br />The funny thing about evil is that it feels good when we do it. That’s why it’s so hard for us to recognize evil when we commit it. People who do evil think a lot of different things, all of them pleasant and even compelling to themselves. <br />A case in point is the actions of an 18-year-old New Jersey college student who secretly videotaped his roommate being intimate with another man in their dorm room and then posting the video on the internet. On September 19, he wrote on Twitter, “Roommate asked for room until midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”<br />A few days later on September 22, the videotaped young man jumped off the George Washington Bridge. The police found his body nine days later. The day he jumped, he left a message on Facebook that read, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”<br />The young man who videotaped posted a Twitter message the day before the suicide, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening again.”<br />This was fun for the man who did the videotaping and then made it available on the internet. It was the end of the world for the young man who was videotaped.<br />Evil as Sport<br />The chair of a gay rights group said, “We are sickened that anyone in our society…might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport.” <br />The young man who videotaped did make a sport out of someone else’s intimacies. He may have thought that gay baiting is a legitimate sport. Plenty of people believe that.<br />I think he was caught up in the fun of posting the videotape. He probably thought the video would be funny for many other people. It may have been.<br />I do not think he meant to destroy a life. I do not think he thought that far ahead. <br />Now It’s Too Late<br />The man who videotaped is not having fun anymore. The police charged him with two counts of invasion of privacy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Some are calling for hate crime charges that have severe penalties, too. His university expelled him.<br />This young man did not think that his roommate would be so hurt that he would kill himself. He thought no further than the fun he was having. If it’s fun, do it. That’s what guided him.<br />Evil Actions do Not Fit Stereotypes<br />Like others who do evil, the man who videotaped had the respect of friends and the love of his family. Students from the high school where he had graduated in June described him as kind and from a loving family. He was voted “best dancer.” His parents took out an ad in the yearbook that read in part, “It has been a pleasure watching you grow into a caring and responsible person.”<br />This brief portrait shows that we can’t rely on stereotypes to identify people who do evil acts. Most people who do great harm to others do not have pencil thin mustaches, slick-backed hair, staring eyes, and wear a cloak that they use to cover the lower part of their faces. They look like you and me.<br />Consequences Show Whether Actions are Evil<br /> Some of the students at the university where the crime occurred debated whether the man’s actions were a thoughtless prank or a heinous crime. Evil acts are not usually evil in intent. People who commit great harm set out to have a good time or to satisfy some desire for wholeness and pleasure. Evil acts such as uploading a video of private acts are in the minds of actors harmless pranks, but in the consequences they are heinous crimes. <br />Consequences show whether actions are evil or not. Intentions mean nothing when another person is greatly harmed. <br />Civility Training<br />The university that the two young men attended had been planning civility training to prevent hurtful uses of technology and group psychology. The training starting just days ago. This incident gave renewed energy for the training to a dazed and traumatized student body.<br />Needed: Accountability Training<br />The university might consider accountability training. Most people would undo the hurt they cause. After all, they did not mean to hurt anyone in the first place. They had been selfish and thought only of themselves. Such persons, and this is pretty much all of us, need pointers on how to make up for what they have done. They know they have lost the respect of people who are important to them. <br />Here are some things we can do.<br /><ul><li>Admit it. State clearly and completely what you did.
  2. 2. Describe effects of your actions on the people you hurt. Be clear and concise, but give details on how your actions affected others.
  3. 3. Take complete responsibility. Do not make jokes, blame others, or plead extenuating circumstances. After all, you did do it.
  4. 4. Say you are sorry and mean it. As you speak, notice whether you actually do feel sorry. If you do not, you are not being accountable.
  5. 5. Accept recrimination. Listen and hear what the people you have harmed have to say about your actions.
  6. 6. Do not repeat your harmful actions, no matter how good you think these actions will make you feel. Statements of accountability and apology mean nothing if you turn right around and hurt others once again.</li></ul>If we do this, we may earn our way back into the good graces of people who have lost respect for us because of our harmful actions. If people respect you because you committed harmful acts, then you may have to re-think whether you want that kind of respect. What kind of person are you?<br />If it Feels Good, Think <br />The lesson to be learned is, that if it feels good, think ahead before you act. Ask, will this hurt anyone? What is the worst case scenario? What is the best case scenario? For the persons I may hurt? For myself? For my family? For my friends? For the other person’s family? For the other person’s friends?<br />The family of the man who committed suicide said, he “was a fine young man and a distinguished musician. The family is heartbroken beyond words.”<br />References<br />Foderaro, Lisa W. (2010). Private moments made public; Then a fatal jump. New York Times, September 30, A1, A4. <br />Foderaro, Lisa W. & Winnie Hu (2010). Student’s online musings point to state of mind before a suicide. New York Times, October 1, A18, A19.<br />Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Fake accountability & true: Telling the difference. http://www.scribd.com/doc/38241791/Fake-Accountability-True-Telling-the-Difference/<br />Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). On being a shit: Unkind deeds and cover-ups in everyday life. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0015XV33Y<br />Gilgun, Jane F. (2010). Why they do it: Beliefs & emotional gratification lead to violent acts. http://www.scribd.com/doc/30778872/Why-They-Do-It-Beliefs-Emotional-Gratification-Lead-to-Violent-Acts<br />About This Publication<br />Roots of Violence, Seeds of Change is an occasional publication for persons interested in violence prevention. In order to prevent violence, we have to understand it. Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is the editor and publisher. To submit articles to this publication, Professor Gilgun cordially invites researchers to email brief articles of three to five pages to her at jgilgun@umn.edu. <br />About the Author<br />Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW, is a professor, School of Social Work, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA. See Professor Gilgun’s other articles, books, & children’s stories on scribd.com, Kindle, and iBooks for a variety of mobile devices. She has done research on the meanings of violence to perpetrators for many years and on many other aspects of violence.<br />