By Emily Erickson
Moonlight shone on the nighttime fog, its beams clinging to the moisture in the air. The cobblestone streets were quiet except for the scuttling of sewer rats and the clinking of bottles from behind the near-unnoticeable door of a warehouse.
Inside the warehouse was a polished man, respected in his community for his academic prowess and charitable nature. He was feverishly measuring, pouring and concocting, creating the potion that would ease his lifelong struggle. This newly finished potion, when consumed, would enable him to separate the evil that lurked inside from the goodness by which he tried to consistently abide.
His name was Dr. Jekyll. And his “strange case” was about to begin.
As Dr. Jekyll drained a dose of his duality-inducing potion, he transformed into a “pale, dwarfish man of no particular age.” Exhilarated, Dr. Jekyll felt the restraints of decency and societal expectations melt away, completely consumed by the primal urges he usually kept at bay. On that dark, foggy night, in the dilapidated, unassuming warehouse, Mr. Hyde was born.
Dr. Jekyll surprised himself with the euphoric relief he felt when transforming into Mr. Hyde. Unburdened by his morality as Mr. Hyde, he could run the streets and engage in deplorable acts, seemingly without consequence. After running amok, he could merely transform back into Dr. Jekyll, his urges satiated.
But, as with any addiction, Dr. Jekyll transformed into Mr. Hyde with greater and greater frequency, ramping up the severity of his actions with each transformation.
Upon reaching the peak of evil, Mr. Hyde committed murder, leaving a regretful Dr. Jekyll to struggle for control over his transformations. It was too late. Mr. Hyde had consumed him, no longer needing the aid of a potion to become his most evil self. The monster within had won.
For anyone who has read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you’ll know the story comes to a dramatic end. For those who haven’t, I encourage you to read the tale for yourself.
For the purpose of this article, I’d like to stop the plot there.
In addition to being an excellent Halloween prompt, the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has particular relevance in our lives today.
With news stories and opinion pieces swirling around a president teetering on impeachment, local politics verging on an election and national campaigns filled with candidates’ conflicting ideologies, the stage is set as contentiously as the mind of a man in a moon-lit, potion-filled warehouse.
Within each of us is a Dr. Jekyll, capable of navigating our days with decency and humanity, engaging in political conversations with empathy and reason. Our Jekylls understand that divisiveness isn’t productive, and that people’s beliefs are the culmination of their life experiences. In this understanding is the ability to tread the middle ground from which progress is made.
Our Dr. Jekylls see our neighbors post articles on social media platforms and seek to see where they’re coming from. They leave thoughtful, information-based comments or, if “triggered,” merely scroll on in preservation of a relationship that’s more important than being “right.”
Also inside of us are our Mr. Hydes, lashing out in thrilling exhilaration at the people who think and feel differently than us. The Hydes within us comment with emotionally-charged responses to the Facebook shares our Jekylls scroll by. They make snide remarks about the character of others, and dig in their heels on carefully crafted policies aimed at strategically provoking the people “across the aisle.”
As in the case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, indulging our Hydes feels good. Lashing out, disregarding empathy and embracing ugliness is a temporary release of the pent-up tension within us all. But, the more we give our monsters a voice, the more we are consumed by them. The more we act on behalf of Hyde, the harder it is to live within the morality of Jekyll.
It’s human nature to be comprised of good and evil; of morality and immorality. But every day we have a choice to act on behalf of one or the other. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “to cast it in with Hyde was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless.” What a sad fate, indeed.
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