Do you believe in monsters? Evil, otherworldly creatures have haunted our dreams as far back as we can document history. Monsters are the embodiment of our deepest fears. Most of us did our best to avoid the bogeyman or its cousins at some point during our childhood. Interestingly, many of us never really grow out of this belief. In the unexamined mind, our monsters evolve, but they never go away.
As we get older, monsters take the form of people – other human beings who have harmed or threatened us or our loved ones in some way, infamous figures from history who caused atrocities against humanity, or imagined brutes lurking behind bushes or hiding in our homes. Labeling them as monsters feels safer. Its simpler and it feels righteous. We see them as something “other” than us – something less than human. In this way they become anomalies. We imagine that if we can only rid ourselves of them somehow, we will be safe. We imagine that we can never be like them.
As a psychologist, I get to know people labeled as monsters as well as the people who are haunted by them. I have never yet met a person who was completely evil or good. I have never met someone who was something other than human. Of course, I haven’t met everyone, so I am keeping an open mind.
In some ways, life would be easier if there were monsters. We could just find a way to litmus test everyone, identify the monsters, and eradicate them in a simple solution that would eliminate the world’s problems and we could feel a sense of righteous about it. We wouldn’t need to examine and address the numerous and complicated causes and conditions over time that lead to hurtful behavior. We wouldn’t need to face the capacity for monstrosity in ourselves and the ways in which we knowingly or unwittingly contribute to the social structures that create fertile ground for monsters. Come to think of it, I believe this solution has already been tried many times over by those we call monsters.
If you really want to kill off your monsters, cultivate a dedicated mindfulness practice. Your parents probably always told you that monsters don’t exist, but its only when you dared to enter the closet or crawl under the bed that you truly understood they weren’t there (at least for that moment). Practicing mindfulness is like peeling back the covers, opening the closet doors one by one, and shining a light under all the beds until there is nowhere else for monsters to hide and all that remains is your own clear reflection looking back at you.