Whenever we witness evil, we are put in a tragic situation because we are tested in the moment insofar as a response is demanded. We are put on the spot, without warning or adequate preparation. In the face of this spontaneous trial, we are bound to become flustered, maybe even indignant at being called out in such an invasive way. We can see why it is so common to simply step back and watch the situation unfold, or to avert our gaze and keep walking. We justify this and we tell ourselves that we did all we could, after all we barely had time to think. In such moments we are forced to either shrink back or to step forward and reveal ourselves, and in revealing ourselves, to either come out against or for evil.
First and foremost, we must understand that to defer the test is to fail it. To choose not to reveal oneself in that moment is already a self-revelation. There is no opting out of this test, and to meet these situations with escapism is to be defeated by them, even if it is a more comfortable defeat than we might have suffered had we acted openly.
Every witness is implicated in every crime. This does not mean that every witness is guilty the crime, since often the situation is truly out of our hands, but even in such cases, when we were powerless to help, we respond all the same, even if only internally, and that response is of a certain character.
Evil actions act as a catalyst. They are like a mirror reflecting our moral character, putting on public display the spiritual maturity of everyone in the vicinity. When your gaze passes by this mirror of evil, what do you see in your reflection?
The fact that we tend to fail this test and, through silence or hesitation, permit ourselves to be implicated, is a demonstration of the importance of inner preparedness. As we observed, in these situations we do not have time to think, and at that point training is what matters, and an absence of training becomes obvious. Thus, we find the necessity of moral training. Only by preparing ourselves ahead of time can we hope to meet evil with a confident response in the moment. The easier path, which is to ignore or minimize the test as ‘none of our business’, or choose not to think about this most difficult part of life, sets us up for complicity and spineless behavior.
We reiterate: encounters with evil are tragic, victimizing everyone indirectly, even passersby, who, with a little foresight and honest preparation, might have acted differently. For some of us, these are the moments we think about late at night many years after the incident, wishing we had had the courage and strength of character to act when instead we shrank back or looked the other way or just observed in silence.