This week, we reflect on the victory of good over evil, the power of the positive, and the joy of gratitude and giving. October is the perfect time to do this. The month kicked off with breast cancer awareness efforts and Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday), followed by Navaratri. Navaratri, a nine-day festival that culminates with Dusshera, a tenth day on which the Goddess Durga triumphs over the evil Mahisasura. Next came Yom Kippur a day of atonement, repentance, forgiveness, and celebration, ending 10-day Jewish High Holidays that began on Rosh Hashanah. The month ends with Diwali, the festival of lights, the biggest Indian festival of the year, when light ultimately overcomes the dark. Many also celebrate the month’s end with Halloween, which for some includes honoring those who have departed. So why are human beings fascinated with good-over-evil philosophy?
Many psychologists have studied this phenomenon and examined why we as human beings are drawn to villains and the dark side. Take Marvel Comics, murder mystery books, gruesome crime novels or James Bond or Star Wars movies, for example. The villains are caricatures of people we know in real life. They are truly evil and relentlessly focused on planning and plotting to destroy people, communities, or the entire world.
So why are we so drawn to these villains? Psychologists believe that there may be an emotional benefit to exploring fictional acts of exaggerated evil. Such exploration ensures that we can recognize and guard against potential evil in others or even our own selves. They also reinforce in us the importance of good and that good ultimately prevails. In other studies, psychologists have shown that reading and learning about real life acts, such as genocide, makes us more aware of our own prejudices and discrimination. Psychological sciences can help us understand the social and environmental determinants or influences that lead to behaviors of doing harm or doing good.
Ultimately, while we all believe in the dichotomy of good and evil, most people are neither all good or all evil. Human beings are a complex mix, and how they may be perceived by others also matters. According to Psychology Today, “It’s a dangerous oversimplification to believe that some people are innately ‘good’ while others are innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ ”* The article argues that this simplification could lead to a criminal justice system that may be unfair, and has fueled wars and conflicts throughout history.
In this regard, it is important to realize that we all have some aspects of good and bad within ourselves and to take note of actions in our own lives and relationships that require a closer look of how we treat ourselves and others.
Events that celebrate the victory of good over evil, in big ways and small, not only validate our overall value systems but affirm our belief to see good in others and in ourselves. It also allows us to reflect every so often any mistakes we may have made or people we may have hurt, and teaches us to ask for forgiveness and forgive others.
Finally, and most importantly, these festivals and celebrations teach us the valuable lesson of courage. It takes courage to face our own inner demons, to battle an evil enemy like cancer, to take stock of all that we have to be grateful for, and practice kindness, gratitude, and forgiveness. All of which, studies have shown, serve to extend our life and increase our happiness quotient.