Bernardus Silvestris, the medieval Platonist philosopher and poet of the 12th century once wrote, “The darkness that surrounds us cannot hurt us. It is the darkness in your own heart you should fear.” I think many would argue that society seems to have a lot of darkness in it today right here in our own country. As a preface, this is not a post to degrade the President, and if that’s what you are looking for, I would like to put it out there that you might possibly be part of the problem. Sure, there are a lot of things to complain about, things have not gone as planned or promised, and the incessant 24-hour media cycle leads us to believe everything is doom and gloom. But I would like to contend, that Silvestris was on to something when he said that what’s inside of us has more of an effect on the world, and our own lives, than what is going on around us.
The 2008 summer blockbuster hit, “The Dark Knight” starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldham, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman quickly became the 29th-highest-grossing film of all time. With Heath Ledger’s untimely death in January of 2008, before the release date, there was a great deal of attention on his role as the infamous, Joker. As with most Batman films, the chase between Batman, the seeming “do-gooder,” and the evil villainous character the Joker brought audiences in, yet Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker seemed to steal the show. Perhaps it was the depths Ledger was able to reach into with his acting, or maybe it was his unfortunate death before the film reached the big screen, but viewers were drawn to his character and in all actuality, I’d argue that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from his script in the movie.
The prolific Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, once wrote, “Give a man a mask and he’ll become his true self.” These poignant words were brought back to life during Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” In our society today there is an epidemic centered around cyber-bullying. There are apps and platforms that allow anonymous postings where you are able to say whatever you want, with no filter, with no repercussions and with no thoughts on how those words will make someone else feel, or how they will frame a situation. As a society, we have grown more vigilant of “playground bullies” or even “workplace bullies” but you give someone a keyboard and a “mask” of anonymity and they will attack someone they’ve never met before with relentless hatred and vitriol. The tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia this month remind us that our society has even gotten to a place where those who use to wear white hoods and march with burning crosses at night, no longer need the face-covering, they now freely march our streets with tiki torches and anger, fueling their speech and behavior. I’d still say that today our society does not look kindly on those who could be termed as “racists” or “bigots” but in a lot of situations they put on their shirt and tie and sit on the same church pews as we do, and they stand around the same water coolers that we do. The days of using separate restrooms are behind us, but that does not remove who some people are at their core.
Ledger said in one scene, “Their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. When the chips are down, these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” Maybe it’s the political climate we find ourselves in today, maybe it’s the 24 hour-media cycle, maybe it’s the cyber bullies, but our society has become a place where we wish ill on others to get ahead, we hope for failure for politicians to push our own agenda, we belittle those who do not think or feel the way we do, we discredit those who look or act different than us. We are continually building a society for our children that says its OK to do whatever it takes to get ahead, no matter who you step on, no matter what you sacrifice, no matter what you give up to attain it. When the chips are down, we show our kids that the morals we taught them can be put aside if it means you get what you want. Our politicians do it every day in Washington when they promise one thing on the campaign trail and then sign bills saying another to further their own agendas. When we promote this behavior, we teach these lessons with our actions, our children begin to build the next generation that believes they have to “eat each other” (figuratively speaking of course) to get what they want out of life.
It is so easy to sit back as a society and be mad at our President, mad at our politicians and mad at the events that are transpiring right here within our United States of America. But who do we really have to blame? Why do we expect our politicians to behave any differently than we do as a society? We so easily cast blame, post Tweets blasting the President for things we don’t agree with (and just as a PSA, this is not a defense of their behavior, just a thought) and how often do we stop and think that our contributions to this country, both good and bad, are what made the society we live in today? Everyone chooses what he or she will do, but if we create a society that elects people who mirror what we do back in our communities, how can we expect them to be any different? How can we expect them to apologize for who they have become, when we have never stopped to apologize for what we have become that made them the way they are today?
Aaron Eckhart’s character in “The Dark Knight,” Harvey Dent said, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” How many people, politicians or just neighbors, coworkers or fellow citizens, have we turned into villains simply because we do not agree with them? How many candidates have you voted for that you once posted how amazing they were, only today to be disgusted with them and villainizing them on any social media platform you have access to? Politics aside, how many people did you once call “friend” that you now consider to be the opposite because of circumstances you never expected? I’d say the number of people who truly want to die a “villain” are few and far between, more reserved for movie characters than people in our neighborhoods. But the truth of the matter is we make villains of people every day, for whatever reason we deem reasonable.
I’m asking you today to start making more heroes than villains. Start rebuilding a society for our kids that is based on those morals, those codes we know to be true and good and stop teaching them to “eat each other alive” for their own benefit. Stop using the mask of cyber-bullying to attack people and start imploring change by speaking your ideas and thoughts on how to change our society instead of focusing solely on disagreeing and arguing.
And let’s remember we should all be focused on ridding our hearts of the darkness within, to remove the darkness around us.