Our Dark Side Has Two Sides

Hank Mattimore
Oct. 30, 2009
Reproduced with Permission

Recently a fifteen-year-old girl was savagely beaten and raped on a schoolyard in Northern California while twenty schoolmates watched. A few of the boys participated in the violence but most were passive spectators, too scared to confront the perpetrators.

I think it's fair to say that at least a handful of the "perps" will be caught and punished for their crime. I doubt that any of the bystanders will be sentenced, unless that sentencing takes place deep in their own hearts, where they have to live with their cowardice.

We speak a lot of our dark side these days, mostly referring to violent outbursts of temper or hatred towards other human beings. Whether it's the rape of a single girl in California or the rape of thousands of women in the Sudan, we condemn these acts of violence and wring our hands over these obvious and highly visible examples of evil.

But our dark side rears itself in the gang of╩young people in California who stood by and let this terrible crime happen before their eyes. I thought of Edmund Burke's famous observation, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." The dark side of people shows itself in big things, like avoiding life-time commitments or in small things like standing by and pretending to laugh at someone's racial slur or sexist joke.

Years ago as an 11 year old boy, I was walking my best friend Bob back from school when we noticed a group of tough kids approach us. They had a grudge against my Buddy for some slight, imagined or real. Outnumbered, I said to Bob, "C'mon let's get out of here." "Go ahead," he replied. "You go. This is my fight." To my shame, I turned and ran.

Nothing terrible happened to my pal. In those days kids didn't go around with guns or knives. Bob showed up the next day at school with a couple of bruises and a cut lip. Still, I avoided him for the next couple of days because I knew I had failed him. but to this day, the memory of that boyhood experience bothers me. I didn't know squat about my "shadow side" when I was eleven, But there it was.

People pleasers (like myself) do not have to look far for this more subtle type of dark side. We let ourselves be carried away by the winds of human respect or fear of confrontation. We worry too much what others will think of us instead of standing up for what is right. We say "yes" when we know we should be saying "no." It's the softer side of our shadow and can do as much harm as strident acts of violence.

Growing up Catholic I was recalling recently the words we uttered in our act of contrition after confession, "God forgive me for what I have done and what I have failed to do " That's just another way of acknowledging our dark side is two-sided. I can only hope the spectators watching an innocent little girl being raped will take that to heart.