The evil bit is a construct introduced as a joke in the realm of computer networks, but it doesn't mean that the idea cannot be recycled and applied elsewhere. I will explain how it can be used in the context of human relationships.
You can refer to Wikipedia to understand what the evil bit is, or rely the following "plain English" explanation.
[Declaring] the evil bit is the act of making your harmful intention public. If the evil bit is enabled, it means that you're plotting something bad.
Please pay attention to the highlights:
- harmful - your action is an offensive one, your plan is to cause damage, insult, manipulate or otherwise offend someone;
- intention - your plan may be expressed via actions that are interpreted as friendly, or actions that are not obviously malicious. Regardless of how you do it, you're still a bad guy if your intentions are not benevolent;
- public - the target of your action is aware of your true intention. If they ask, you tell them the truth; or you just write "I want to harm you" on your forehead.
As you can see, the rules are simple; if you understood me correctly, then by now you should be thinking "hey, wait a minute, only an idiot will actually tell me that they want to harm me! what's the point of the evil bit?". This is where it begins to get interesting.
Reality is designed in a slightly different way: an action does have an evil bit, but the bit is not public, it is private (yes, in this context the terms "public" and "private" have the same meaning as they have in a C++ class :-). In other words, we have no possibility to know what the ones around us are really up to, we can only see their actions and interpret them. We can even attempt to make an educated guess about their intention, but we can't know for sure.
Before you contradict me, let me say "yes, you're right". If someone punches you, steals your wallet or robs your house - their evil bit is sure as hell turned on.
But what about these? Someone ...
- stepped on your foot or pushed you;
- moved your things while you were away (ex: mom put things to "their right places" to make a surprise for when you return);
- forgot to do something for you;
- did something different from what you agreed they would do;
- is late to a meeting;
The problem is that people are very good at criticizing others, and [sadly] the standards they apply to others are not necessarily as strict as the ones they apply to themselves. This makes it incredibly easy to get offended by interpreting someone's action or inaction as "aaarh! the evil bastard wanted to exploit me!".
You may be right, but if their evil bit was not enabled, it means that you are wrong. They could have royally screwed something up, they could ruin your plans, they could make you lose some money - but they didn't do it on purpose.
Does this also mean you shouldn't be angry at them? I think so.
Everyone says "but hey, it is the intention that counts" when something nice happens to them (get a mini-gift, a nice word, attention expressed in a symbolic way, etc) at an evidently small scale. For example, instead of receiving your 25 roses at the anniversary, you get a carnation... "That's not huge... but it is the intention that matters". You didn't get your Rolex watch, it was something more simple, "but hey, it is the intention that counts"...
It is easy to forgive when something nice happened to you, but if we look at things objectively - such a reaction doesn't make you look "noble", "forgiving" or "kind". No one owed you the Rolex, so you don't really have the power to forgive. But it does give you the opportunity to brag about how good you are, doesn't it? ;-)
Try forgiving someone who has accidentally destroyed your favourite vase, or lost your lucky pen, or made some marks on of your favourite books... That's forgiving. Getting over something painful, but which was not the result of a malicious act - that is what makes you a kind and forgiving person.
What about not forgiving someone whose evil bit was not on when they hurt you? This is a tricky one. It could mean that you lack empathy, that you're not willing to accept the idea that your interpretation may be wrong, or that you got hurt so badly that you don't have the strength to get over it.
But if you are one who easily "forgives" those who did something nice to you, it means you're a person without integrity, who applies double-standards; i.e. be merciless when someone stepped on your toe, be merciful when someone "gave you a carnation instead of 25 roses".
I want to take this one step further and state that people of the last type are a bad thing for society. I am tired of being their target. I can't find a reason to respect them.
"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence". People make mistakes (that's news, isn't it?:-) If you spot a mistake, do mankind a favour and explain the mistake to the person who made it, suggest a better way. Be patient, for you will have to repeat your lecture more than once. Be polite when pointing out other people's errors. By reacting in a way other than this one, the message you spread is "I am not going to bother to try to help you".
Well, you should get off your high horse and spend some more time among "average humans", as there is a great chance that tomorrow you will be in the shoes of the wrongdoer, and you will want others to give you another chance.
"It costs nothing to be polite when you have to kill a man". If you didn't realize that, think about it. By not wondering about the value of the evil bit (i.e. the true intention) and simply accepting things that are "nice", you can become the target of a con.
For example, a corrupt government rips you off and pockets all the collected tax money instead of putting it to good use; every now and then they throw a free music concert, which you attend, thus take advantage of the offer (after all, they've invited one of your favourite artists). What happened? The evil bit is on (they just wanted to manipulate you by throwing some dust in your eyes, to cover their incompetence or outright illegal schemes with an act of "niceness"); you've just let them screw you behind your back, using your own money. Enjoy the concert ;-)
Pre-emptive counter-comment - no, I am not saying you should be a paranoid and doubt every nice act, the target of which you happen to be.
Conclusion: when you want to attack someone for something they had done to you,
If you cannot make an educated guess about the value of their evil bit, try asking them "hey, did you just do that? Or did you do that with the evil bit turned on?" ;-)
A note on relativity - it is speculated that there are no facts, only interpretations; that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; conversely, evil is in the eye of the victim. No- we must stick to the definition of "evil" used by the person who commits the action.
Pre-emptive counter-comment - yes, yes, you will say that by this reasoning, terrorists are to be forgiven because they genuinely believe that killing innocent people is a good thing. No, this is not true. Terrorism has nothing to do with common sense, logic or reason.
People are often bad at judging whether the evil bit is on or off based on others’ actions. E.g. if I am late I will say the traffic was bad (external factors), but if X is late I will think that X is a disorganized person (internal attribution / personality factors). In psychology this is called the fundamental attribution error.
[stops random rambling]
Comment from: gr8dude [Member]
Constantin, this is not rambling, this is a good observation.
Actually, I did cover this in the article (this is what I meant when I wrote that people tend to apply relaxed standards to themselves and strict standards to others).
I’ve updated the story and re-wrote it in terms of a “self-test question” (I’ve been doing that a lot lately, self-test questions are the next big thing :-)
Taking a second to ask yourself “hey, do I really believe they intended harm?” is sufficient to reset your state and re-evaluate the previous conclusion. This is simple and easy to implement.
I’ve applied this on several occasions, as a simple question (i.e. not as a self-test one). When challenged by someone for something I did wrong, I asked “hey, do you honestly think that I wanted to screw you?". In neither case the answer was “yes", so the method is effective. It helps switch a person from an emotionally charged state into a rational state, where decisions are usually better.
Another way to use questions in problem resolution is to ask “would they still do it this way if they knew they’d hurt me?". A person with an evil bit enabled would of course do it again (for that’s what their purpose was), while a person with the evil bit turned off would try something else.
p.s. The term you mentioned is close to “Misattribution of arousal", a similar phenomenon that influences human [romantic] relationships.
p.p.s. The self-test question strategy was promoted in ‘the write right rite’; I still haven’t written the subtitles yet, but you can download the video itself here: http://blip.tv/file/2994088/
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