In my latest reading of People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, M. Scott Peck talked about Charlene. Charlene was a lady in her thirties who played by her own set of rules, regardless of how that affected others. She played by her own set of rules when she was in college, which meant that she did not fulfill assignments in the way that they were assigned. The same went with the jobs that she had. Moreover, she wanted Dr. Peck sexually, even though he told her that this was inappropriate because he was responsible for her growth as a human being, and a sexual relationship with him would hinder that. She also came to Dr. Peck’s house (which was also his workplace) even when she did not have an appointment. For years, she came to Dr. Peck for psychotherapy, and she told him that this was for her own amusement because she liked to see how he’d react to what she said and did.
Charlene appeared to be fearless, in the sense that she was not afraid when she started a new job, but Peck concluded that this was because she played by her own rules anyway, so, of course, she wouldn’t care whether she was successfully meeting others’ demands or expectations. But Peck speculated that she must have a great deal of fear: she desires control, and that’s why she seeks to dominate situations.
She was in a church for a while, even in a position in which she taught Christian doctrine, but eventually she left Christianity and joined a cult. Peck asked her what Christianity says the goal of life is, and she replied that it’s to glorify God. But she didn’t care for that doctrine because she wondered where the room for her was in that.
One day, she came to her therapy session, behaved herself, and then remarked that this was her last session, and she was simply behaving herself to show Dr. Peck that she could. Dr. Peck was flabbergasted and felt like a failure.
Peck says that he speculated that at least part of her problem was Oedipal. I won’t go into the details of that, but, essentially, in Peck’s description, many kids at a young age go through the Oedipus complex and come to learn and accept that they can’t have their cake and eat it, too. But Charlene did not go through that stage because her parents really were not there for her when she was growing up. Consequently, she retained a belief that she could live by her own set of rules, that she could have her cake and eat it, too.
Looking back, Peck says that he wished that he simply recognized when he was treating her that Charlene was evil. This was why Charlene gave one of Peck’s other patients the creeps whenever Charlene went through the waiting room! At some point in his conversation with Charlene, they talk about exorcism. An issue that comes up in this book is the source of evil. Is it a medical condition? There is another person whom Peck discusses, a lady named Sarah, who continually put down her husband, and there was a time when she was speaking to Peck that she did not manifest a continuous stream of thought. Peck speculated that she may have had mild schizophrenia. Is there a biological cause for evil? Is evil due to poor nurture? Or are there times when it’s due to demons?
Peck does not think that Charlene was thoroughly evil. She did, after all, refrain from getting married and having children. Had she gotten married and had kids, Peck speculates, she would have been an evil mother like Mrs. R., and an evil wife like Sarah, in that her narcissism and desire for her own amusement would have harmed the lives of others. But, through her avoidance of marriage and motherhood, she did not allow herself to do harm within a family context.
I thought about Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things when I was reading about Charlene. Gaunt liked to set people against each other for his own amusement. Charlene didn’t go that far, but, like the other “evil” people Peck discusses, she was narcissistic. I don’t think that it’s so wrong to be an individual, to be creative, to be unique. What the herd wants me to do is not right just because the herd is expressing its exalted viewpoint, and heaven forbid that I should disagree with the herd. But I should not take these thoughts in the direction of narcissism. If I’m working on a team, for example, then I should be a team-player. If my boss wants me to do a job, I should do it, for I’m there to serve the company, not to fulfill whatever I may desire at the moment.