Choosing to See What’s Real: Recognizing the Counterfeit Nature of Evil
The Litmus Configuration
Bank tellers who handle cash all day long have to learn exactly what genuine currency looks like. They’re thoroughly trained to identify all the attributes of legal tender so that they can easily spot counterfeit money. They know the real thing so well, they can’t be fooled.
In the comedy caper Midnight Run, bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) takes mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) into his custody, charged with getting him safely across the country by any means necessary, while they repeatedly avoid getting killed.
In one hilarious scene, in dire straits, they walk into a tavern and walk out with money — using only deception: Mardukas impersonates an FBI agent, and tricks the bar owner into handing over a pile of so-called phony 20-dollar bills, which Walsh pretends to identify with “the litmus configuration.” How do they so easily con the bar owner? Because they play their parts and tell their lies without flinching, carrying out their ruse with absolute conviction.
If you were in that bar, do you think you could avoid being conned? Any of us can be fooled, if we’re not paying full attention. The above bar scene depicts a petty crime; but what about blatant evil? How can we stay alert to evil, while still keeping our hearts and minds open?
With lies being told everywhere — in propaganda disguised as news, doctored “deepfake” videos, threatening robocalls, phishing emails, and so on, it’s more important than ever to be discerning at all times.
Like those expert bank tellers, it’s essential that we get to know the real deal very well, so that when evil comes along, even when it appears compelling, we’ll recognize it for the scam that it is. If we’re going to change the world for the better, each one of us needs to be a force for good.
This calling isn’t a vague notion of right acting that we take out on weekends for a couple of hours at our house of worship; it’s not a once-in-a-while doing our bit for charity. I’m talking about a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment practice of knowing, being, and doing good — making good a habit, until good instinctively permeates our lives.