Why does it appear that evil is overrunning us? With mass shootings, terror attacks, war, distress, theft, deception, oppression, and the trumpet of hate blaring constantly in our ears, sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’re winning at this thing called being human. Maybe humanity is a waste of space, a waste of life. We pollute the earth and we enslave our fellow beings. We use religion and politics to oppress our neighbors whom we call friends to their faces. We extend the arm of goodwill, then we slam shackles around the hands and the necks of the believing and unsuspecting. We devoutly teach distrust to our families. Even when someone may truly intend to help us, we shrink from their outstretched hand because we’ve been burned too many times. One of my former students recently chose to end his life. I don’t know why. It’s painful to consider but probably not as painful as the tribulations he endured. I don’t know what affliction led him to decide that moving on beat sticking around and suffering through whatever it was. Perhaps he saw through a clearer window into the evil of this world than I see through.
I once tried an experiment in one of my high school classes. I wanted to make math more meaningful to my students. I discussed several options with my class and we decided to start a student-led, student-owned business selling motorized scooters. I was really excited; my students would learn by doing. They would compute compound interest, create mathematical business models, build geometric product displays, and learn scooter mechanics, etc., and they would do this, not because they were assigned to answer questions in a textbook, but because they wanted to build a successful enterprise. One student in particular took special interest in the project. He was one of the few students who were eighteen years of age, so he filed the legal paperwork, signed several private notes to borrow startup capital, assisted with research, negotiated a lease for the business location, and spearheaded the remodeling effort, etc. We found an importer of scooters and checked their business connection with the manufacturer in China. We then contacted the company at the number on their website to establish our dealership and place our initial inventory order. It all looked legit.
Looks deceived us, however. The salesperson whom we contacted siphoned calls away from the the legitimate importer and passed the sales off to a separate distributor who collected the money, but failed to deliver the scooters. After countless phone calls, emails, and pursuing every possible angle, we finally received a small, partial shipment. The scooters may have been stolen, however, because we could never obtain the certificates of origin which were necessary to license the scooters with the state. Consequently, the few scooters that we received could not be licensed for operation on public roads, rendering them essentially unsellable. We worked with law enforcement, but to no avail. Eventually the thief pled guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to eight years in prison, but we received no compensation.
The lead student sold the few scooters at cost for off-road use, and worked for about two years, on and off, to earn the money to pay back his business loans with interest. Some investors insisted on forgiving his loans, but he refused to ask for it. He could have walked away since the scooters were offered as collateral for the loans, but his own sense of honor wouldn’t permit him to do it. I was heartbroken and embarrassed. My attempt to bring learning to life for my students ended in a nightmare. That ordeal occurred over eight years ago, but the lead student who took the brunt of the disappointment was the same who recently committed suicide. He eventually left our community to explore the world and I gradually lost touch with him. Nevertheless, I worked very closely with him through the harrowing experience as it transpired and I loved him for his integrity, work ethic, and overall goodness. He was a really cool kid.
So, with the abundance of evil manifest continually in the world, how can we remain optimistic about humanity? With people like my student, that’s how. I believe in the innate goodness of mankind. I believe it fervently. When a madman recently fired on 22,000 concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more, many more people responded with compassion, love, and charity. When a few madmen hijacked jets and flew them into high-rises, killing thousands of people, many more responded with love. There are many more heroes among us than murderers. When nature unleashes its fury in earthquakes and hurricanes, millions respond with love. When a family experiences heartache and distress, the outpouring of love from neighbors overwhelms them. There is far more love in the world than hate. Perchance even the thief that sabotaged my real-life learning experiment could be the guy that someday sacrifices his own life to save a child.
Love wins. The practitioners of hate will fall at last. Their victories are momentary at best and their works will fade to ashes like scraps of paper left in the sun. We will always have evil to contend against, but good overwhelms it now and forever. Perhaps good will continue to encroach upon evil until its domain vanishes completely. I don’t hope for this, however. The evil that pierces my soul from time to time, and causes so much pain, also stirs me up to contend more earnestly for good. The departure of my former student leaves me searching for answers. I may never know why. Meaningful answers don’t come easily, but while I search I will endeavor to radiate the abundant goodness that I saw in him and thereby, possibly, a part of him may live on.
Photo used by permission from Robert Knudson.