“It isn’t enough to stand up and fight darkness. You’ve got to stand apart from it, too. You’ve got to be different from it.”
– Harry Dresden, Fool Moon
The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher
Oh, the much-needed and timely wisdom of this quote!
When Harry says this, he is speaking specifically of the situation he and his allies are in at that moment, which involves imminent conflict with people who were once good, but who have been corrupted by a vile power that they accepted with the best of intentions. They’ve done horrible things, at first in the name of doing something good, and lives, innocent and guilty alike, have been lost to the carnage. Harry intends to stop them, and he will not hesitate to do so by whatever means necessary, especially since he intends to survive the experience. If it’s kill or be killed, he favors kill. However, he intends to avoid the slippery slope that his enemies have already fallen down, that of a hero who becomes a villain, becomes exactly what they fight against. As he sees it, his way to accomplish that is to be willing to kill, yes… but not to intend to kill from the start. It’s a subtle, but important, distinction.
Many of the most important distinctions between good and evil, right and wrong, are subtle, but every bit as significant as the difference between light and darkness, between being able to see and being blind.
Harry Dresden gains a long and varied career in fighting the darkness of the world, all the things that go bump in the night, and many times he makes the mistake of trying to outsmart the Devil. He tries to outdo the darkness, be the bigger, badder bogeyman in the eyes of the bogeymen, and he calls on forces better left uncalled upon. He makes bargains and compromises and deals. Even in Fool Moon, mere moments after his speech about standing apart from darkness, he tries to use against his enemies that same vile power to which they have fallen. It works, but he very nearly loses himself in an instant.
So, obviously he is not perfect, and he could probably use this advice he gives himself. That is often the way of the world, isn’t it? Our heroes are not perfect, and sometimes they need to hear what they tell others. Sometimes they need to be saved as well. People often make the mistake of stepping into the darkness that they’re fighting, and need a friend to pull them back from it. But, still, Harry and all the other heroes at least keep trying, and pulling each other back from the darkness, and they learn from their mistakes.
Right now, I see a lot of people who are trying to do something good, as they understand what good is. But in the name of good, they are doing very bad things, inexcusable things, destructive things, hateful things. They think that they are fighting everything that is wrong with the world, but the truth is that they’ve just become part of everything that is wrong with the world. They’ve forgotten that how a goal is achieved is every bit as important as the goal itself. More important, they’ve never learned that simply opposing evil does not make you good.
Evil people fight and kill other evil people all the time. That doesn’t qualify either one as “good,” or even as “less evil.” Thus, to be good, one needs to do more than just oppose something bad. One needs to, well, stand apart from evil, be different from evil… be better than evil.