Malevolent or Benevolent –
Last night I listened to a podcast about the psychology of a stalker. A young woman, through no fault of her own, had encountered a patron at her work and treated him nicely, the way she did every customer. The man who received her professional courtesy and kindness took it as a gesture of a personal declaration of her love for him. From then on he would show up at her work, her home, parties and other places. At first, he would watch her for hours, then he began writing poetry, calling her at home, declare his love for her and her for him at different and unexpected places. She reported his behavior to the police, depended on friends to keep him away, moved twice to locations almost five-hundred miles apart. Still, he found her.
He wrote a blog about being a stalker in which he wrote about a love that was benevolent; kind, kindly, kindhearted, big-hearted, good-natured, good, benign, compassionate, caring. He insisted she misunderstood him and accused him of being malevolent; malicious, hostile, evil-minded, baleful, evil-intentioned, venomous, evil, malign, malignant, rancorous, vicious, vindictive, vengeful. He had plans of “fake” kidnapping her and after she went away with him, falling in love with him. His behavior was spiraling and finally, after attacking another woman, he was put in jail for thirteen months for assault, stalking and predatory behavior. Before, during and after being incarcerated, he wrote a book about a man who fell in love with a beautiful woman who eventually learned to love him. People can find the book for sale online today and the blog he still writes.
Love gone wrong, gone bad, corrupted, coercive and corrosive is not love but selfishness painted in illusion. As I listened to the podcast last night I couldn’t help but think a lot of what’s wrong with our world today is people not knowing the difference between malevolent and benevolent.
I heard a story today about a chaplain who worked in a veteran’s hospital in the 1950’s. There was an African-American soldier in the hospital who had lost a leg in the Korean War. The physical therapists had worked with him trying to get him used to wear a prosthetic leg. Both the soldier and medical personnel tried everything they could think of but nothing worked and the soldier was ready to give up and live life with one leg and crutches for the rest of his life.
The chaplain was made aware of the situation and stopped by soldier’s bed one night to see if he could be of any help. “I can still feel my leg, my real leg!” the soldier cried. “It’s a phantom pain.” replied the chaplain, “It will go away in time.” “That leg!” retorted the soldier gesturing toward the prosthetic one, “will never be ‘my’ leg.” After visiting with the young man the chaplain prayed with him and asked if he could take the prosthetic one with him. The soldier responded with a shrug.
The next day the chaplain returned with the same leg except it was painted a shade of brown to more closely match the soldier’s own skin tone. “What did you do?” asked the perplexed soldier. The chaplain, hoping he hadn’t offended the young man said he took it home with him and thought painting it might make it seem more palatable. “That’s all you did?” asked the soldier admiring the leg. “That’s it.” smiled the chaplain. The chaplain helped the young man to the side of the bed, attached the leg, helped him take his first few steps and from that day forward the soldier made remarkable progress.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The chaplain helped the soldier not by insisting he use resources given to him by the hospital but by listening and understanding what the soldier was going through and then adapting his help to the soldier’s personal, unique need.
Too often we see people who need assistance and we automatically assume there are places and resources that are available. We surmise that if someone wants help enough they’ll figure out how to get it. The truth is everyone’s story is unique and unless we listen, understand and are willing to personally get involved many will go on suffering and being blamed for doing so.