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One of your most difficult challenges on your path of personal growth will be dealing with the consequences of seeing your values shift away from the people who are already in your life, such as your family, friends, roommates, or even your spouse.
If you maintain a strong commitment to personal growth, such shifts are inevitable. As you gain more clarity about what’s most important to you in life, you’ll notice increasing contrast between your values and those of others. How you deal with such contrast can really put you to the test.
For instance, you may grow up within a certain religion or culture, but as you mature you may find that those beliefs no longer ring true for you, and you feel the need to shed them and move on.
Or you may grow up with certain eating habits and find yourself shifting away from your childhood diet as you learn and grow.
Or you may have been taught to adopt a certain lifestyle path by default, such as the expectation that you’ll go into the corporate world and get a job working for a large company, but later in life that option may not seem so intelligent to you.
Exploring the Contrast
When you notice this type of contrast beginning to surface, I encourage you to explore it consciously. It may seem a little scary at first — it was for me on many occasions — but I think you’ll find as I have that tremendous growth is to be found within that contrast.
When I was 17 years old and beginning to grasp that my Catholic upbringing was filling my mind with beliefs that didn’t satisfy my intellect, I felt that my only other valid option was to be an evil person. I was never exposed to other possibilities at that time. In my mind I was either Catholic (good) or non-Catholic (evil). So the only valid way I saw to grow beyond this point was to give myself permission to be evil, so I could explore other perspectives. This may seem like a silly choice to someone who’s never experienced that kind of conditioning, but it was very real to me at the time.
Giving myself permission to explore what I previously labeled as evil kicked off an incredible path of growth for me. I shed many false beliefs along the way, had my best year academically, and felt much freer and more alive. The best part was expanding my social circle to include non-Catholics and getting to know them. I dove into evil and found that it was nothing of the sort. It was simply freedom. I soon realized that I’d been brainwashed into thinking that an alternative path was evil by those who were invested in my lack of freedom and self-determination.
For me at the time, there was no other way out. I had to give myself permission to walk through the door labeled evil. That was the only exit I could see.
The Evil Exit
I later found that this is common in many belief systems. The interior of the belief system is frequently labeled good, while all of the exits are labeled evil (or variations thereof). So in order to escape, you have to do what you’ve been taught is evil. The more you accept these labels as real, the more trapped you become.
Which exits are labeled evil in your life right now? Which paths do people tell you are wrong, foolish, crazy, etc?
Is it possible that those paths aren’t actually evil? Is it possible that the so-called evil exit is actually the path to greater freedom? Is it possible that you’ve been conditioned to believe that such exits are evil by those who benefit from your lack of freedom? Who gains from your staying put?
Permission to Be Evil
Another situation where I had to choose the evil exit was leaving my marriage five years ago. Culturally speaking, ending a marriage, especially one with kids, is frowned upon, even though most married people eventually find themselves going that route.
That exit was covered with lots of evil-sounding labels. There’s a ton of social conditioning against leaving an unfulfilling marriage.
One thing that helped me, once again, was to give myself permission to be the bad guy. By this point I knew I wasn’t really doing something I felt was wrong, but allowing myself to be labeled as such anyway, and to accept and own that judgment both from myself and others, made it easier to move forward.
By giving myself permission to be evil instead of trying to resist or deny such a label, I was able to make what I felt was an intelligent choice, even if others might vehemently disagree. Sometimes I found it helpful to exaggerate the path in my own mind and to accept the exaggerated versions, which made it easier to accept the reality.
You’re so right — I’m a quitter!
Yup, I’m abandoning my kids. Total deadbeat!
Why yes… I’m doing this so I can sleep around. Such a slut!
Worst husband and father ever!
Yes indeedy… I’m evil! No good person would ever do this…
Being True to Your Own Values
Giving myself permission to choose the evil exit makes it easier to clarify and stay true to my own values, especially when my values diverge from socially conditioned values. I gain the freedom to choose the less popular path without drowning in struggle and resistance that would otherwise keep me stuck.
You see… from the perspective of someone with certain values that are in opposition to mine, I am in fact evil. Relatively speaking, the judgment is accurate. If I seem to be in denial about my obvious evilness, such people will often feel a strong need to criticize, condemn, or convert me. But if I simply agree with them — if I can “yes-and” their point of view — it saves us both a lot of time.
You cannot invalidate a perspective since a perspective is simply a lens through which reality can be viewed. In order to attempt falsification, you have to use a different lens than the original one. No lens can falsify another lens except an outside-in manner, meaning that falsification is lens-specific and certainly not universal. In fact the very notion of falsifiability only arises within certain lenses; without other lenses the notion of falsifiability is meaningless.
It is an artifact of many lenses, particularly persistent belief systems, to define the interior perspective as good, right, and correct and the exterior as bad, wrong, and evil. Subscribers are right. Non-subscribers are wrong.
To many people with certain religious beliefs, I’m evil because I don’t believe what they believe. I’m an outsider, a non-believer. I’m not saved. I’m going to hell. From within their belief system, these are reasonably accurate statements.
Isn’t it simplest to agree with them?
Yes, I’m evil.
When I die, I’ll be going to hell.
I’m here doing the Devil’s work. Muahahaha!
From my perspective as a long-term vegan, it would be simplest if the flesh-loving people in my life would simply admit that they’re evil. After all, from an ethical vegan’s perspective, it’s completely ludicrous that they should pretend to care about animals, the environment, etc. It would be more sensible for them to say, “Yeah, I totally don’t care about animals at all. Fuck animals! I’m evil and love seeing them tortured and killed for my pleasure.” That would be honest.
Your Relationship With Evil
In the absence of such pre-translated language, you can also do your own translation from another person’s preferred lenses into your own.
Go tell a devout Catholic that you’re an atheist, and don’t be so surprised when your statement gets internally translated as, “I’m a sinner.”
Or tell an ethical vegan about how you like having your favorite animal flesh prepared, and the internal translation of your statement may be, “I’m cruel and unkind.”
From an outsider’s perspective, you may be inclined to label these as unfair judgments. But from an insider’s perspective, they’re reasonably accurate observations.
For whichever doors in your life you may be labeling as evil or wrong, there are countless people who’ve already walked through similar doors and explored beyond them. The first question is: Will you walk through that door too? The second question is: Whether or not you walk through that door yourself, how will you relate to those who already have?
Exploring your own answers to these questions is a significant part of your life’s journey.
On your path of growth, you’re likely to find many doors labeled evil. It’s a label that one human lens often projects upon another. I think you’ll find as I have that many of these paths which are so labeled don’t actually conflict with your values when you explore them. It can take a lot of reflection to clarify whether or not a potential path conflicts with your values or not. Sometimes the easiest way to find out is to walk through the door and explore what’s on the other side. Then you’ll know.
Giving yourself permission to be evil means giving yourself permission to risk violating your own values. It means giving yourself the opportunity to test alternatives and to make mistakes.
Occasionally you may walk through a door labeled evil, explore the other side, and realize that it’s not for you. While there can be notable consequences to doing this in some cases, much of the time the potential negative consequences are overblown, and the exploration is well worth the learning and growth you’ll gain. Different lenses can distort the way consequences appear.
For instance, if you’re considering a divorce, the interior lens will tend to overplay the potential negative impact on your family. It may encourage you to believe that you’ll be the worst person on earth for causing terrible damage and destruction to a handful of people. This kind of belief can really keep you stuck.
The exterior perspective looks very different, however. By staying trapped in an unhappy situation, such a person is surely spreading stress and unhappiness to many more people and crushing their potential for decades of future contribution. Even if taking the exit door would indeed have a largely negative impact on their family, that consequence must be balanced against the many positive ripples that would be created by seeking a path of greater fulfillment… and inspiring others to do the same.
Take the Evil Door Sooner
On my own path of growth, I’ve learned that in those situations where I suspected that the grass might be greener on the other side, I was usually right. My intuition was accurate. The other side was indeed greener, happier, and more fulfilling. My biggest regrets are of the form: I wish I’d walked through the evil door sooner.
I’m glad I’ve taken risks to explore and clarify my values. Even when I’ve made mistakes, it’s hard to regret them in hindsight because I still learned a lot from my worst choices; they still helped to clarify my core values over time.
When you allow yourself to be evil, you gain the ability to float more freely between different lenses. Doors that are labeled evil exit transform into doors that are merely labeled exit. You’re pre-approved to walk through them without having to worry about judgment or resistance. This gives you the freedom to make more open-minded and conscious choices about which alternative paths to explore.
If you’re feeling stuck, trapped, or stagnant in your current situation, but all the exit doors from that place are labeled evil, then give yourself permission to be evil, and take one of those exits. Become the sinner… the quitter… the betrayer… the abandoner… the loser… the deadbeat… the failure. Wear those labels proudly. They’re all synonyms for explorer.