Written by Bernard Gbayee Goah
This paper attempts to answer or at least explore the idea that a deeper understanding of evil can aid in the process of conflict resolution. In a general sense, I do believe that an understanding of evil can greatly assist in resolving conflict whether on a small scale, such as interpersonal or on a large scale, such as between countries.
However, what I am conflicted about is, how helpful is an understanding of evil if I believe that a person is evil not just their act, or the reverse, if I believe that a person’s act can be deemed evil but not the person. If I hold that one of these ideas as true or false would it change my belief in whether an understanding of evil is helpful in resolving conflict?
I have often thought that a person can naturally be evil. I have held this thought for years. I thought a person by nature is either evil or good. I had the belief that once a person’s behavior was an inborn tendency, it cannot be easily altered or changed.However, I did belief that there were stages in this inborn tendency as the person grows older in accordance with the environment in which he or she lives. These stages do not actually portray accidental change but a preset tendency that must come to past in the life time of the person’s life. One may ask me what I meant when I said I did believe that there were stages in the inborn tendency of a person and why these stages have relationship in accordance with the environment in which he or she lives. Well, I had believed that a person’s inborn tendencies are all pre ordain and will always come to past no matter what. When these stages occurred, we often think something new has happen because we are unable to know what has already been pre ordain to happen next. I had the believed that no matter what, these stages will come to past anyways. I once believed as well that every environment is pre ordain to become the way it looks and that these environments have stages as well which does not necessarily mean an accidental change, but something that must come to past naturally. I am not the only person who had carried these beliefs. If not all, majority of the people in my Village in Liberia share similar thoughts and beliefs as well. The merciless killings of over 300,000 innocent women and children by Liberian rebels lead by Charles Taylor from 1989 to 2004 influenced my thoughts as well as the thoughts of many others in Liberia about the word called “Evil”. When I was asked by my instructor in one of my graduate classes how I would define “Evil”, my answer was this: “The word “Evil” is relative and that it’s meaning defer from person to person”. I went on to give him my actual answers by saying that “Evil or Good” are something a person is born with. After the first class room discussion in my “Evil and Conflict Resolution class”, I have come to realize that evil and good are act that can be committed by any person depending on choices a person make . A person can choose to commit evil or good. With this new way of looking evil and good, although I still hold on to a fractional part of my previous belief that the acts “Evil and Good”, are relative from person to person depending on one own experience in life. My new paradigm shift after my class is that evil and good are in fact acts that can be committed by choice. I believe that whatever the case may be, depending on we term as evil within the culture we find ourselves, a negative connotation is always attached to the word “Evil”. But mostly importantly we should be able to understand that a person can choose to commit an act which may be either evil or good, and that such act defers from person to person. What may be considered as evil to john may not be considered as evil to Paul. When an act is committed, whether evil or good that does not necessary mean that he or she who committed such an act is evil or good. If we continue to use our culture and experience only, stereotyping and dehumanizing those who do not look like us or behave like us or even those whose culture we believed to be primitive and conclude by viewing them as “evil doers,” without trying to understand how they perceive evil, without trying to understand that their cultural believes are different from ours, we enforce the creation of a dangerous “us and them” dichotomy, which makes reconciliation across cultures and viewpoints nearly impossible. In order to break such narrow way of thinking, we must re-humanized experiences that we do not understand, through coming to an understanding of the social, historic, and economic forces that lead to what we consider ‘evil” We must be able to engage the problem in a more productive way. What we see and hear on our radio and what we hear our politicians tell us on a daily basis must be looked at from a very different point of view. I will give another example on how tribes view evil base on individual experience in my country (Liberia). Before the civil war started in Liberia, the Krahn believed that the Mano and Gio tribes were evil tribes. It was believed that these tribes believe in the eating of human parts for ritual reasons. Such belief has circulated amongst the Krahn tribe for generations. It was often said that no person of Krahn decent should make the mistake of sleeping in a Mano or Gio person’s house at any time. At least, I have heard my uncle mentioned so on lots of occasions when I was a boy. Whether such information was true or not, no one from the Krahn has ever tried to study the Mano and Gio traditions at all. When the civil war started in Liberia, it was a war between a single tribe and the rest of the country. This single tribe is called the Krahn tribe. So, I will say the Krahn vs. the Mano and Gios, the rest of Liberia. The tradition of the Krahn tribe is very different from the Mano, Gios and other tribes in Liberia but close to that of the Bassa and kru tribes. The Krahn tribe preferred a prolong dialogue in order to be able to come up with multiple ideas to solve problems. The Mano and Gios tribes did not believe in prolong dialogue. At first, when the conflict started between the Krahns and the Mano and Gios, the Mano and Gios got felt up with the idea of using a prolong dialogue to solve problem which needed quick resolution. The Krahns did not understand that the Mano and Gios were actually getting tire of a long way of solving problem. So, while the Krahns were waiting to hear from the Mano and Gios tribes, these tribes were busy preparing for a war because they were victims of the Samuel Doe government and Doe himself was from the Krahn speaking tribe. The Mano and Gios were very inpatient as the result of many of their people who were either killed or horribly tortured during the Doe administration therefore they decided to support the waging of a war against the Krahn tribe. The Krahn tribe saw the Mano and Gios tribes’ actions to be evil. On the opposite, the Gio and Mano tribes thought the Krahns were in fact evil because a member from their tribe killed their people, they thought the Krahns were playing tricks and did not want to agree to come up with a quick solution. In the first place, had the two tribes tried to understand that they all have different traditions and different way of solving problems, there would not have erupted a civil war. In fact before the civil war erupted, the Krahn tribe had stereotyped the Mano and Gio tribes to the extent that these two tribes were looked at as evil doers in Liberia.
From the example I just give, I believe that the Mano and Gio tribes had the choices to choose whatever path they wanted to choose. They had their free will to think whether it was morally acceptable to wage a war that will kill innocent women and children. They had the free will to choose whether they should accept that traditions are different. Had they seen enough reasons to attempt to understand the Krahn traditions probably, there would not have been a civil war at all. In the same way, the Krahn tribe had the free will to try to understand the Mano and Gio tribes traditions of solving problem in a “none prolong dialogue” faction and to choose what they want to do as well. The Krahn tribe should have gone be young the rumor that have been circulating for generations that the Mano and Gio tribes are human eaters. The Krahn tribe should have tried to understand why such believed continue to circulate for generations instead of stereotyping and dehumanizing the Mano and Gio tribes. All of these created huge conflict amongst these tribes today in Liberia beyond human imagination. Up to this day, the conflict still exists.