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Home » Time To Rethink Evil: Julia Shaw (Transcript)

Time To Rethink Evil: Julia Shaw (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of author Julia Shaw’s talk titled “Time To Rethink Evil” at TEDxOxford 2018 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


What is the Worst Thing You Have Ever Done?

What is the worst thing that you have ever done, something that you’re probably ashamed of? Now imagine that everybody knew about it – your friends, your parents, your colleagues. We hate the world to judge us. We would hate for the world to judge us based on the worst things that we’ve ever done, yet we judge others in exactly this way every day.

For our own behaviors, we see the context, the complexity, we see the difficulties. But for other people, we just see the outcomes of their behaviors. And that leads us to label people, with all their complexity, with one single, heinous term: murderer, thief, liar, pedophile, monster, evil. It’s urgently time for empathy. It’s time for us to give humanity and understanding back to a population that we too often deprive of both. So first, do you think that you are evil?

Now, when I ask people this question, of course, everybody says, “Well, no. I’m a good person.” Because guess what? We all seem to think that evil is something that other people are.

Jeffrey Dahmer

People like Jeffrey Dahmer, people who abduct rape, murder, dismember other individuals. Jeffrey Dahmer was a notorious serial killer, and it’s easy to see someone like this and say, “I would never be capable of those kinds of things” – until we are. Because some of us do.

Now, the question here is, “Why do we forget the underlying humanity?” When it’s our turn to be the monsters, again, we see the nuance. We have an explanation. But for others, we don’t see the same things.

With Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, he kept pieces of his victims. Now, this sounds like an atrocious thing to do, and it’s not an excuse. But as a partial explanation, when asked, “Why did you keep body parts from your victims?” he said, “I was so lonely. I didn’t want them to leave.”

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