One fine morning, I woke up evil.
At first, I didn’t notice. After all, who isn’t evil when they first wake up in the morning? For most of humanity, it takes a significant period of time and the soothing comfort of our morning routine in order to regain all the lost civilization and humanity we have lost, somewhere, while asleep.
So I took no notice of the roiling miasma of irritability, malevolence, darkness, and greed that boiled in my soul that fine summer morning. I simply attributed it to the usual combination of sleepy confusion, low blood sugar, and severe lack of caffeine that normally blackens my soul before breakfast, and went through my habitual grooming and preening with nary an inkling of the life changing discoveries I was about to make.
Indeed, it was not until I I had finished my second low-fat croissant-based ham omelet sandwich and my third cup of slow roast Arabica Gold that began to realize that something was awry.
At first, I couldn’t tell what it was. I just knew, the way one can sometimes know this sort of things, that all was not right in the house of my psyche and it had, in fact, shifted subtly but deeply on its foundations some time during those long dark hours between evening and dawn.
But as I gazed out of my breakfast nook’s tastefully restrained bump-out window and mused open this development, the fog slowly cleared and a terrible dawn crept across my mind in rough synchronicity with the one that was creeping across my front lawn.
And in the cheerless light of this inner dawn, it became clear that I was, for whatever reason, now deeply and profoundly and seemingly irrevocably evil.
Ah, but what does this mean, this evil of which I speak? By what definition did I judge myself evil? Gentle readers, your poignant philosophical entreaties did not go unanticipated.
The primary element of this self-diagnosis was malevolence. I felt a deep and abiding ill will towards all people. It was not very strong (yet) but extremely pervasive. In fact, I could not, at that moment, think of a single bad thing that could happen to a single person in this world which I would not both wholeheartedly support and richly enjoy. The slightest thought of others brought on fantasies of perpetrating abuse, manipulation, and degradation on them, all accompanied by gales of laughter from I, the perpetrator.
Accompanying this was nearly complete lack of active empathy and sympathy. I tried to imagine tragic situations which would normally make me feel badly for the people involved, but I found I simply could not bring myself to care. I could imagine the situation, I could imagine how the persons in the situation felt, I could judge that I would not want to be in their situation, but I simply didn’t care what happened to people who were not me and were of no use to me.
Shocking, I know, and even as I type this, I find myself appalled at my callousness and craven disregard for others. That morning, I was stupefied. How could this have happened? Previous to this disturbing incident, I had been, in my opinion, a fairly good person. I lived well below my means and donated much of the surplus to the charities at which I also volunteered. My work was in a field I had chosen specifically because I judged it to be where I could do the most good in the world, namely using my engineering and design skills to work on low-cost versions of important medical machinery. I stay in touch with my family. I recycle considerably more than mandatory. I teach Sunday school. I freecycle.
All this seemed entirely pointless to me now. Why should I do all these things for others? What was in it for me? I could not, for the like of me, imagine one reason not to do everything for myself and to hell with others. Who cares about a bunch of weak losers?
Again I was appalled at myself. What on earth had happened in my sleep? Had I had a brain aneurysm that had selectively and silently rendered me sociopathic? Had I, in my wanderings through the shadowed realms of the dreaming world, stumbled upon a dark and eldritch evil whose very touch left me forever corrupted beyond all hope of redemption? Or had I merely loaded the coffee machine with decaf by mistake?
I pondered my sad fate. Everything I knew about evil from countless hours of movies and television suggested my future was not a bright one. Evil people always met a sorry end and never get the girl or the ticker tape parade. I wondered if I would now feel compelled to grow facial hair and affect a British accent and a penchant for elaborate deathtraps and jewel encrusted canes?
And what would the neighbours think? I was keenly active in many neighborhood improvement communities and had strong feelings about maintaining certain standards of lawn care and yard maintenance discipline. How would it look if I was to suddenly start littering my carefully groomed lawn with laser-shooting statuary and crudely disguised pitfall traps? Already I could feel myself yearning to install a trap door under the “Welcome” mat in front of my front door. And the worst part was, I knew exactly how to do it! Confound my intuitive grasp of mechanical engineering!
A terrible thought crept across my mind. I looked at the small television I kept in my breakfast nook for the morning gardening and cooking shows I enjoyed on the weekends. With but a few buttons pressed on the remote control, I would have, via my reactions, incontrovertible proof, one way or the other, if I had forever abandoned the light for the path of unmitigated evil. But no. Not evil a moral crisis like this one could make me watch Fox News. I would get my answers by other means.
But all that paled in comparison to my horror at my sudden and total lack of empathy. It suddenly became clear to me just how much I relied upon it in order to guide my actions. Everything I did, from the smallest gesture to my political affiliations, was bound by my commitment to the question “How will this affect others?”. Without that question, I was adrift.
But wait. Had I truly converted to a lifestyle of pure and unadulterated evil, I would not be horrified by my suddenly lack of empathy. I would be reveling in it! At last, freed of the burdensome shackles of so-called “morality”, I was now free to unleash my campaign of terror and darkness upon the world! My name would go down in history as the blackest villain to stain the suspecting Earth with his foul designs! My will would become the absolute unchallenged power behind all of history from this point on!
You know, that kind of thing.
And just like that, I could feel the ice around my heart and my soul begin to melt. I wasn’t evil, I had just lost touch with my moral core for a short period. Of course I still cared about others! Of course I still had a deep and abiding sense of my obligation to make sure my actions made the world better instead of worse! Empathy and sympathy flooded into my mind as the blockage crumbled like ice in spring, and I once more felt the deep warmth of the community of humanity.
I am not ashamed to say I wept with relief.
Clearly, this had been a momentary aberration. The morning mind is a dangerous place even at the best of times, and I felt silly for forgetting my long standing rule about making absolutely no decisions about my life or the state of the universe before 9 am at the earliest.
Once more in full possession of myself and with a fresh and intimate appreciation for the moral guidance provided by my conscience and my empathy, I gathered up my things, set the dishwasher into motion so that I could unload it when I came home that evening, and set off to face the day with renewed purpose and fresh enthusiasm for my work.
But just to be on the safe side, I threw out all my decaf coffee before I left.