I’ve always wanted to write fiction—novels or short-stories. If I dared.
On occasion, I’ve read about how to write fiction, which is a nice sop to not actually sitting down and writing it. The psychoanalysis behind that little dynamic could probably pay for someone’s house.
Anyway, one of the most perceptive things about fiction I’ve ever heard turns out (not surprisingly) to be true of life. Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card said:
the secret to all characterization for me is expressible in two maxims: Every character is the hero of his own story, and You don’t write characters, you write relationships. In practice the first maxim means that you must let characters have their own purposes and agendas, not just do what the plot requires, and the second maxim means that nobody is the same person to everyone — who they are depends in large part on whom they’re with.
While Card is absolutely right, his first maxim highlights a spiritual truth too. There are, I suspect, few if any people who are evil for the sake of evil. That’s a lazy staple of melodrama or Saturday morning cartoons. Even uber-villain Darth Vader wanted to bring “order to the galaxy,” get rid of “destructive” and paralyzing democratic debate in a degenerate Republic, and save his wife from dying. (Whether the writing made this transition plausible is another issue that would likely pay for some psychoanalyst’s vacation as I work through my grief at the Star Wars prequels, but again, I’ll save that for another time.)
Thus, Elder Maxwell understands it well:
One less-noticed abuse of power occurs when some allow themselves to be intimidated or blinded the persuasive skills and domineering sophistry of others. We have seen it on a gross scale in the consequences of the blood-drenched dictators of World War II. Surely, “when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2; D&C 98:9). Being taken in also occurs subtly and in small ways, too, whereby we see how those whose thirst for dominion exceeds their regard for others, whom they use repetitively and unapologetically. The deception of others always begins with self-deception. First the victim, self then becomes the willing accomplice. We see it all too often in the power plays of business frauds, politics, coverups, and even dating. Regrettably, there are also the enablers, who do not wear a warning sign about their sad and facilitating role. Our lack of awareness is part of their deception. Evil enablers think they can walk on wet cement without leaving their footprints and with no accountability. More self-deception. How necessary, therefore, is the Spirit to help us to discover deception, even in ourselves.
– Neal A. Maxwell, Whom The Lord Loveth, kindle location 210.
When we do evil we almost always mean well, or (more accurately) manage to convince ourselves and our enablers that we do. How convenient that the good of all also suits our own goals, priorities, and quests for power and influence. Even Satan managed to cloak his own self-aggrandizement as concern for everyone’s well-being.
But, this self-deceit allows us to take umbrage at any who oppose our efforts. Destroying them or their influence is thus just the working out of natural justice and right.
Such thoughts bring me to a statement I saw decades ago on a practice room in the Conservatory of Music in Lethbridge:
Crazy people often mean well, but meaning well is not enough. On some strange level, even Genghis Khan may have meant well.
– The Marriage of Bette and Boo.
And so, we do need the Spirit to pierce our self-deceit (as well as the deceit with which others try to make us enablers).
Good first steps that may warn us that not all is well can be drawn Card’s second characterization maxim about relationships: those with evil designs are known by their fruits, and that is revealed in the differences in their relationships.
How do we treat others? More importantly, how do we treat others under us, or over whom we have power? Are we honest and open, or hiding our plans and disguising our motives? Do we leverage private influence behind closed doors to get what we want? Do we expect others to believe us based upon “top secret” information, about which they must simply trust us? Do we threaten to embarrass or eject others if they don’t kowtow to our agenda? Do we blame others for problems we created?
Do we publicize our complaints broadly without trying to work things out quietly and privately? Do we misrepresent or distort? Do we fail to provide decision makers with all the facts?
To be sure, there will always be a ready justification for violation of these rules: but, such excuses are generally precisely that: excuses.
We must be careful that we are not led to accept or support in any way any organization, cause or measure which, in its remotest effect, would jeopardize free agency, whether it be in politics, government, religion, employment, education, or any other field. It is not enough for us to be sincere in what we support. We must be right!
Marion G. Romney, Look to God and Live (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971), 57–58.
Crazy—and wicked—people often mean well. So, meaning well is not enough.