Sharing a real-life lesson learned from a real-life devil.
I‘ve never really been much for Halloween, or for horror films for that matter, because the real spookiness and horror of our world is laid out in front of us every night on the evening news.
Of course, that isn’t as much fun, is it?
We now bring you tonight’s edition of
(dah dah dummmmm … )
STO: State! The Obvious.
Item: Have you ever noticed how much attention the media gives to people who do really bad things?
Why do they do that?
Don’t they have anything better to do?
The Obvious (dah dah dummmmm): No, as a matter of fact they don’t have anything better to do. The news media are supported by advertising revenue. Advertising costs big bucks and advertisers are not idiots. Bad news sells and good news doesn’t.
And whose fault is that? (Dah dah dummmmm … )
This concludes tonight’s edition of
STO: State! The Obvious.
(Transcriptions available upon request.)
Whose fault, indeed?
Based on the slant the news media presents us constantly, it is difficult to see society as anything but upside down in just about every way we can think of. By all appearances, the lives of the innocent are ruined or destroyed, the Justice System goes out of its way to preserve the rights of the criminal, and up until recently mass murderers got really great movie deals.
What lesson can we learn from this?
I’ve met a number of people in my life who operate almost exclusively from a place of malicious intent (as we probably all have, whether we’re aware of it or not). I feel the people who “work” this way, who carry this intent, are simply evil — consciously, deliberately evil.
You can call it a character flaw, or a disorder, or whatever politically-correct euphemism you choose (you spineless politician), but the motivations and actions of these individuals are wrong, and wrong in an absolute sense.
An observation I’ve made with these individuals is that they are successful at what they do because they don’t doubt themselves.
It appears that good people often doubt themselves, and that bad people don’t.
Once Upon a Time …
Let me tell you a story:
Back in my high school and college years I knew I guy I will call Phil Gasner, introduced to him through a friend of a friend. I developed an impression of him as a perennial college student at the local university, usually hanging with the Philosophy/Art crowd. He was an intriguing individual and would engage me often in philosophical conversation, and would usually run me straight into contradictions in my world-view that would point me at seeing my existence as meaningless.
I feel confident he delighted in watching me squirm.
Yet, he was charismatic enough to engender a sense of (undeserved) trust. I remember he asked me to do a Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) psychological evaluation test, claiming it was for something he was working on for one of his courses. Not thinking, I took him at his word and did it. (I was not the only one in my circle who did.) Later I reflected on why he would want to peek into my psyche so deeply, and from the vantage point of the distance of the intervening years I suspect he used it to gather ammunition to wage the sometimes ruthless mind games he frequently played.
Unless, of course, there was something more sinister going on that I never discovered.
One week he asked if we could have a “games festival” for a few friends at my home — my parent’s home — the upcoming Friday, when my parents would be out doing their usual ballroom dance class (they were animals, those two). When the day arrived, dozens of people showed up, and every board game we had and a few from outside our home went into play. When I asked who all these people were, Phil shrugged and claimed he had no idea. Some time later I learned some valuable property had been stolen from our home, probably that night.
He would know things he shouldn’t know. I remember one time shortly after the start of my college years Phil surprised me at the home of a friend from high school, a friend, for the purposes of this discussion, I will call “Rick.” At this time Rick was smitten by a girl from our high school class. Rick had, in fact, privately proposed marriage and was waiting for her answer. Phil offered to do a psychic reading for Rick, and said he could “divine” Rick using a basketful of unfolded laundry by applying the same basic technique as reading tea leaves.
The sheer silliness of this had our attention, but then Phil described with some accuracy the inner turmoil Rick was enduring. We were both left wondering how the hell did he know?
The next time I visited Rick, he asked me how Satan was doing.
You know, Phil.
Phil, apparently, had left an impression.
The Plot Thickens …
Phil excelled in playing mind games with the religious. I resented the Christian religion deeply in my teens, and have to admit I vicariously enjoyed Phil’s antics.
My first year at the university I was introduced to a young woman I will call Patty, a woman who exuded a constant, almost naive delight in living. She truly was an innocent, and I recall seeing her more than once singing to herself as she crossed the campus between classes, blissfully happy and completely without any sense of self-consciousness.
She was, in fact, Mormon. I do not mean this in a derisive way by any means. She was operating in the context of a clean, downright wholesome Mormon upbringing. I was exposed to this when she invited me to a church gathering, which, if I remember correctly, was a kind of bridal shower, where I was introduced to the charming tradition of eating my way to find party favors that had been hidden by being baked into a cake.
Flash-forward two years.
I had left home nearly two years before and had a hard time with life on my own. (So, yes, I am one of those children that moved back in after he left.)
(Forgive me. I did get over it.)
Through a number of experiences I had fallen into a deep personal crisis, and began to seriously begin to wonder if my soul was in jeopardy. It wasn’t, of course, but I felt desperately lost, and after returning crestfallen to the empty nest I sought spiritual guidance, and unwittingly latched on to one of the harshest Christian doctrines I could find.
Did I mention this was California?
I Got Religion, and got it with a vengeance.
After word got out I was back and had become a goat-roping Jesus Freak, it was inevitable that Phil would pay me a visit.
One night (another of my parents’ dance nights), Phil came to the door. I was now convinced that, like my high school friend had said two years before — and being caught up in the delusions that overzealous, desperate Christians are apt to have — that Phil was in fact a servant of the Devil.
Being convinced that I shouldn’t let evil intimidate me, I opened the door and spoke with him.
Phil then removed any doubt about what he was.
There, alone in the twilight that evening on the other side of a frail screen door, Phil told me he had personally driven innocent little Patty into a mental institution.
Then he asked to come in to chat.
It was a tribute to the force of his charisma that I actually considered it for a fleeting moment. He was visibly surprised when I told him to get off the property or I would call the police.
I closed and locked the door, and after several minutes he left.
• • •
A Lesson from the Devil
Now, whether Phil had actually destroyed Patty’s mind and life or not, Phil wanted me to believe it.
Any way you slice it, this makes Phil a monster.
And there was nothing I could do about it. I had never known Patty’s address, and only vaguely remembered her church. I had no way to verify the situation. Even assuming Patty really was institutionalized with some mental breakdown, who would listen to what was obviously a wacked-out Jesus Freak?
I’m sure Phil understood all of that with perfect clarity.
This isn’t the only person I’ve met like this. I believe Phil is an example of someone effected by either what is technically known as Antisocial Personality Disorder, or possibly Malignant Narcissism.
Fifteen years ago he would probably been called a Sociopath, which at the time was defined as someone who holds nothing sacred beyond his or her own interests.
As far as I’m concerned, this definition still fits very, very well.
One could charitably say people like these are insane, because they are out of touch with reality — with the reality that what they are doing is wrong in an absolute sense.
Unfortunately, I have no closing chapter to this story. That night on the doorstep to my parents’ home was the last I ever saw Phil. He may still be out there, wreaking havoc in the world.
Fortunately, Phil taught me some things, things he probably hoped I would never learn.
- I learned there are people like him.
- I learned that the conventions of polite society can be used to manipulate the unwitting into doing things against their own best interests.
- I learned that a smooth talker can seduce just about any information of value out of anyone, given enough time.
- And I learned that these kind of people never give up.
The criminal and sociopathic of the world believe in themselves. They never doubt their worthiness to take whatever they want from whomever they want.
The good-hearted often make the mistake of doubting themselves, of questioning their worth and the integrity of their intentions. Yes, we must know ourselves and our motivations. But a soul living from good intention can understand mistakes and make better of them, whereas the soul living from malicious intent may never come to do so though the span of an entire life.
And possibly, even after.
Learn this, because the Devil already understands it: we are worthy.
What the Devil doesn’t understand is that we are beloved parts of the Infinite, and it is a denial of reality to think anything less.
Simply, believing in ourselves is the rock on which rests our lives, and doubting ourselves is a luxury we cannot afford. The Devil doesn’t doubt himself. Why should we?
Copyright © 2006-2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.
This article is revised from a previous version (no longer available) which was published on this site, Oct 26, 2006.