After reading The Orphan Master’s Son and The Garden of Evening Mists, both including sections on life in prison camps, I am again appreciating how much evil we humans are capable of. This makes me more grateful to the authors than despairing of humanity. If only more people were aware of their dark potential, the world would truly be a better place. Accepting that all of us are inherently flawed would make it harder to dismiss or dehumanize anyone in particular. It would also make it harder to believe in utopian ideologies, which bring out the worst in our species. Instead, appreciating the depths of which each of us is capable would bring some humility to our collective endeavors, increasing mutual trust and effectiveness.

To acknowledge the complexity of our nature doesn’t have to lead to self-loathing. We don’t need to believe in our essential goodness to be happy. We can still strive to do good without having to be good.


The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson; Random House 2012.

The Garden of Evening Mists byTan Twan Eng; Weinstein Books 2012.