“Bad People”

One of the key difficulties for humans, at this point in our history, is our collective struggle to face our oppressor positions and our oppressor material [distress]. One reason is that we all have early hurts about “bad people” and how they are treated.

In our societies everyone is assigned one or more oppressor roles or positions. Also, everyone carries “oppressor material,” because we all carry distress recordings from witnessing oppression or being oppressed. Everyone is vulnerable to re-enacting the hurtful actions in these recordings and thereby hurting someone else. Mostly we act out the recordings at people who are weaker—for example, physically smaller or less knowledgeable—than we are, or our mistreatment of them is supported by the structures of society.

In some situations, acting out oppressor material is not noticed or may even be seen as good. This is because it conforms to widely accepted structures within society. For example, hiring people to work in a business is often seen as providing jobs rather than exploiting people to make a profit.

In other situations, when someone acts out their oppressor material they are seen as a “bad person.”


“Bad people” are a central feature of many stories we heard as children or read in children’s fiction. “Bad people” are also featured in stories for adults and in the news media. The message in these stories is that “people who act out oppressor material are bad people.”

Many of the stories have a “good” ending in which the “bad person” is punished in some way for their behaviour. Most punishments typically include

  • telling the person that they are bad, that no one likes them, and that it is right that something bad will now happen to them;
  • rejecting them, isolating them, physically hurting them—or even killing them;
  • publicly announcing that they are bad;
  • calling on everyone else to agree that they are bad, to agree with the punishment, and sometimes to help carry out the punishment.

Sometimes the punishment involves hurting the “bad person” in the same way that they hurt other people—and this is seen as especially good.

The stories we are told about “bad people” also carry another message: if you behave like the “bad people,” you are a bad person, and you will be treated in the same way.


When we were young, we may have witnessed other children being punished, and most of us experienced punishment directly. We also heard about adults being punished.

For young children, being punished, witnessing the punishment of others, and hearing about people being punished are confusing. Even the idea of punishment is confusing.

All of these things install distress recordings, one effect of which is to make us feel scared of being punished. We may try to escape punishment by hiding how we have acted out our oppressor material. We may also blame someone else so that they are punished instead of us.

When we hide our oppressor material, we are left completely alone with it. This makes it difficult for us to discharge the recordings—so we remain vulnerable to hurting people.

The recordings of punishment we carry become part of our oppressor material. We may feel a pull to punish people (for acting out their oppressor material!). We may re-enact the punishments that we experienced, witnessed, or heard about in stories. We may also feel that something is deeply wrong if someone acts out their oppressor material and is not punished for it.


These recordings hold back human liberation:

1) Where we have an oppressor role or act out oppressor material, we are pulled to hide it, deny it, or blame someone else for it. An example is when certain white people emphasise the racism of another (usually more oppressed) group of white people.

2) When we try to communicate about the oppressive society, or oppression, or people in oppressor roles [which is all of us], our communication may carry the tone or content of our early recordings about “bad people” or punishment. This tends to restimulate the listeners into acting as in number one above.

The widespread pull to hide our own oppressor material and roles, and blame other people for theirs, “locks in place” the oppressive society, because it becomes difficult for everyone across the whole society to discharge the distress recordings that cause the problem.

This suggests that discharging on our early impressions of “bad people” and how “bad people” are treated will help us in our attempts to liberate humanity from oppression.

Karl Lam

Cambridge, England

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion lists for RC Community members and for leaders of men

(Present Time 191, April 2018)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00