SALT LAKE CITY, UT – In 1946, C.S. Lewis published a book titled “The Great Divorce,” which was not about divorce. The book is an allegory or fantasy about several ghost-like characters who were invited to leave a state of misery and enter into a realm of happiness. The transition involved a bus ride to the celestial mountains. After getting off the bus, the characters had to decide if they were going to continue into the mountains or remain in misery.
One traveler had a red lizard on his shoulder that twitched its tail and whispered in his ear. He attempted to silence the lizard, but the creature persisted, and the man started to turn back. An angelic being approached the man and encouraged him not to give up. The man responded that he had to leave because he could not control his shameful lizard. The angel asked the man if he would like him to quiet the lizard, and the man said “Yes, of course” and the angel reached for the lizard saying, “Then I will kill him.”
The man recoiled away saying he just wanted to muffle the lizard, not kill it. The angel insisted that killing it was necessary. The man attempted to make excuses and delays, but the angel persisted until the man finally consented. With burning hands, the angel crushed the lizard as the man cried out and fell back.
Then there was a stunning transformation. The man was filled with light and power and the dead lizard transformed into a silvery stallion. Then the man joyously leaped on the stallion and galloped into the light at the top of the mountain. (pp. 98-103)
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In the real world, many of us are like the man with a lizard on his shoulder. We want to avoid misery and have more happiness, but nasty lizards hinder us. Metaphorical lizards come in many forms, but these three evils are especially ruinous:
- Deceit is the act or process of causing someone to accept as true or valid that which is false or invalid. Deceit is practiced in order to exploit, steal, injure, or take advantage of others. In some circumstances it is illegal. Deception is usually hurtful and damaging. Most people despise liars and seek to escape them. Those who love and make lies are subject to social and spiritual rejection.
- Coercion is bullying, force, or violence used to compel or dominate. It is used to make someone do something they are otherwise unwilling to do, thereby subverting free will or consent. Promises obtained by coercion are not lawfully binding. Coercion is almost universally despised by those who have been subjected to it. Surely, some of the lowest rings of hell are reserved for those who forcefully violate others.
- Cruelty is hostility, barbarity, brutality, and meanness. Cruelty causes pain, suffering, and misery. Cruel people are willing to hurt others to satisfy selfish desires which often result in physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Cruelty is maximized when the perpetrators pretend that they are inflicting others for “their own good,” or for some noble cause.
These three dreadful ways of behaving have severe social and spiritual consequences. Most people hate being lied to, pushed around, and abused. Many secular and religious systems criminalize deceit, coercion, and cruelty.
Most of us have done a few of these things, and noticed that it hurt people, and that it made us feel rotten. There are some among us who regularly do these things and wish they didn’t. Sadly, there are a few who like to lie, bully, and torment.
So here we are, trying to shake off lizards of deceit, coercion, and cruelty with no lizard-crushing angels in sight. Fortunately. C.S. Lewis understood this dilemma and helped open our minds to this three-part solution:
- Recognize the problem. You can’t fix an issue that you don’t admit. Don’t indulge in denial, making excuses, or rationalization. Blaming others for your flaws makes things worse.
- Change your mind and your heart. Decide to think, say, and do things that increase happiness and prosperity. Seek to understand, help, and love those within your sphere of influence.
- Get rid of the toxic lizards. Delays, concessions, and appeasement will not work. Quickly replace deceit, coercion, and cruelty with truth, encouragement, and kindness.
It’s hard to admit mistakes or misdeeds and even harder to reform. However, most progress with people and things is founded on recognizing errors and making improvements. If we want to be happy and successful, we need to have enough fortitude to recognize and replace bad concepts and habits.
Deceit, coercion, and cruelty are manifested in private and public behaviors. They are damaging to individuals, groups, and nations. Few things are more important than avoiding private or public relationships with lying, controlling, cruel people.
It’s easy to see that some individuals, groups, and political parties indulge in and promote deceit, coercion, and cruelty.Hopefully, many of them are getting tired of the misery, and are moving toward getting rid of some nasty shoulder lizards.
When unrepentant lying lizard leaders manage to sneak into important positions, it is imperative that we get rid of them as soon as possible.