Wrongdoers: A Creativist Response

People who do wrong elicit responses that are wildly inconsistent and that themselves compound the initial wrong.  A creativist approach can help us do better.

This paper looks at the problem of how a good person should respond to the existence and operation of people who do wrong, from grand-scale tyrants like Putin to corporate crooks and self-serving politicians and, ultimately, ordinary people who commit acts of calculated, personal injury.  Religion and ethics have high-minded ideals on these topics, but what realistically can and should the ordinary person do?


I approach the topic through these questions:



What are we dealing with?


Wrong can be defined in many ways, ranging from severe violence to taking someone’s portion of food or usurping their place in a queue, or even failing to act when action is required.


The drivers of wrong are generally ego (lack of concern for others), greed, untruthfulness, fear or apathy.  However, these things are often not simple.  For example, Putin’s motivation in attacking Ukraine may not be simple self-aggrandisement but a genuinely felt conviction that a free and West-leaning Ukraine is a threat to Russia.  There may also be provocations which are hard to ignore.


In each case we have to distinguish between the wrongdoer and the wrong.  One ideal position is that we respond to the wrong rather than the wrongdoer, but in practice we all have feeling about wrongdoers and these can’t be overlooked.  Not only this, but there are situations where people commit so much wrong that they have effectively become that wrong: to use the words of Yeats, we can no longer tell the dancer from the dance.


What are we aiming to achieve?


Each person will have his or her own answer to this question, but my answer in general terms is a world where everyone and everything can live with maximum freedom without undue pressure or harm from others.


What principles might apply?


These are some of the more obvious principles:



Creativism would seek to find ways of showing truth, love or goodwill, and creative energy to get an outcome better than the represented by the wrongdoer’s wrong.  In other words, a creativist is always looking for ways of transforming the present reality into a better world.


What courses of action are available to us?


Firstly, what we do depends on how we assess each situation in terms of its key variables, notably:



Next, and ultimately perhaps most importantly, is the extent to which we allow our emotions to be engaged.  We may be able to govern our emotions a lot, as the Stoics did in ancient time or practitioners of Buddhist mindfulness do so today.  But for the sake of our mental health we cannot do this forever.  Jesus was often (apparently) in charge of his emotions, but even he erupted when he found the merchants and moneychangers in the temple.


The courses of action available to us are various.  We can ignore, applaud, condemn, do wrong in return, or seek to mitigate harm by support for victims or by restraining the wrongdoer.  We can engage with the wrongdoer or not engage.  If we don’t engage directly we may do so indirectly, for example by working in a general sense to promote peace, prevent violence, counter greed etc.  Wrong and wrongdoers come in so many forms that we have to use all options we can.


What is effective and what is sustainable?


Regrettably we have to make compromises; we are but human.  We have to, for example, refrain from responding 100 per cent to everything, or limit the nature of our responses, so that we can have maximum effect.  Jesus allowed himself to be captured by his enemies but then did nothing to encourage them.  He responded to his wrongdoers with restraint.


Here are guidelines I like to follow:



How can we handle the wrongdoer within?


We ought to be able to recognize ourself as a wrongdoer and respond accordingly just as we do with others.  In practice this often does not happen, however, or if it does we contaminate our response with denial, shame, guilt, or weak excuses.    We need to be able to identify this inner wrongdoer, something that’s not easy to do, at least objectively, and then avoid over-reacting or under-reacting.  Honest self-examination and self-assessment are therefore crucial.


Ironically, the wrongdoer within is often ourself making a bad response to someone else’s wrongdoing.  In our distress we compound someone else’s error.  Thus wrongdoing is perpetuated through our civilisation, even though we have the capability to slow it down. 

People who are fundamentally good are constantly challenged by the instances of evil in this world; and not only evil, for there are numerous shades of action or inaction that we might categorise as simply wrong.


Habitually we personalise these things and respond not just to the wrong itself but to the perpetrator – the wrongdoer.  Whether this is a right response is a moot point: the fact remains that this is how we are.  Sustaining this kind of response is the observation that some people have become so set in their regrettable ways that they are themselves a huge problem.  We can’t address wrong without somehow neutralising if not altogether removing the wrongdoer.


Our responses to wrongdoers are typically wildly inconsistent.  We may steam up over the actions of tyrants or warmongers in a foreign country where we have little or no ability to act meaningfully, while people who knowingly perform below standard in our public services and cause huge damage to fellow citizens go relatively unnoticed.  With a little bit of thought and self-discipline we can do better.


At the base of all this there is a perpetual dilemma.  The universe is so ordered that evil or error are pathways to good, so in that sense we have to accept them as necessary.  At the same time, our own best instincts tell us that they are to be resisted; fundamentally, for the sake of our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those we hold dear, we are opposed to wrongdoing, at least in its worst manifestations.  Wrongdoing therefore has to be managed.  But how?


Balance is at least part of the answer.  In our short time on Earth and with the limited scope we each have for action, we need balance to ensure that our responses to wrongdoers are proportionate; in other words, we get the best possible results overall.  We cannot afford to waste our energies on trivial matters or matters which are, practically speaking, dead ends.  For the sake of the human race as a whole, we have a duty to be balanced, so that we depart this life with the world a little better.  And for the sake of justice, each wrongdoer individually has to be treated in a balanced (and hopefully creative) way.


Both reason and emotion need to be fully engaged at all times.  Reason gives us understanding of the full facts of the matter – the scale and intensity of wrongdoing, the causes, the options for remedy and so on – while emotion gives us the energy we need for our response.  Fortunately there are techniques to help us with our emotions, such as stoicism and mindfulness.  Our energies don’t need to be wasted on mere queue jumpers or amateur scammers.  They are much better directed at constraining and rehabilitating the more serious offenders against humanity and the universe – people who are, after all, ultimately our own brothers and sisters, as capable of good as they are of ill.