Good and Evil

by Kahlil Gibran

Original Language English

And one of the elders of the city said, Speak to us of Good and Evil.
And he answered:
Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, "Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance."
For the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward.
But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,
You are only loitering and sluggard.
Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.
But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, "Wherefore are you slow and halting?"
For the truly good ask not the naked, "Where is your garment?" nor the houseless, "What has befallen your house?"

-- from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

As I was considering which poem to send out this morning, I came across this meditation on good and evil by Kahlil Gibran. I last featured this poem and commentary about six years ago, and I thought it might be worth sharing again...


I like this meditation on good and evil. It challenges assumptions and and raises important questions. Gibran suggests there is only good, for that is everyone's inherent nature, and what we call evil is simply being lost and uninspired. He calls us to be compassionate to those who are selfish and cruel, for they suffer from greater poverty than the homeless and greater hunger than the starving; they suffer from poverty of the soul.

I strongly feel one should never passively allow the hard-hearted to inflict harm or hoard what belongs to all. Such actions must be opposed with strength and courage and clarity. The vulnerable must always be protected. That is a basic duty. But even success in such action does not stop the fundamental dynamic of harm, just that particular instance. We must always remember that those who inflict harm and encode selfishness into systems and institutions, those people are also seeking their way, just blinded by their spiritual poverty. That's where the real, patient work of the ages is found... finding how to open eyes and hearts long used to to being shut, finding how to redirect them toward the forgotten goodness and generosity held within.

One line I do question, however, is, "Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles." To suggest that some people are stags and others turtles might be read to imply that our spiritual unfolding is fixed. Every human being harbors something of heaven within. There is no speed to the process. All that is needed is the right reminder of what we already are. Then begins the steady process of discovering how to encourage that ember and let its warmth permeate all aspects of our lives. Turtles don't need to become stags. Humans simply need to become themselves. Humans just need to become more human.

But how to reach those who would armor themselves against the urging of their own hearts? No simple formula, nor single action nor organization can accomplish this. Not a year nor a generation nor a century will accomplish this. Still, that is what must be done. That is the real, hard, slow work given to us all to accomplish, each in our own lives, our work, our world.

Knowing our work, let's be impatient to begin and supremely patient in its accomplishment. Knowing our work, what cause is there for anything but joy in turning to it each day?

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.

Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
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Good and Evil