Bad things happen to good people. I know. My six-year-old son was murdered by a former student in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School alongside 19 of his classmates and six educators. We read about those who die in countless natural disasters all over the world. Thousands of good people perished in the 9/11 attacks. The media shares headlines of brutality and destruction on a daily basis.

The labeling of good versus evil has helped us to categorize unspeakable horror in an attempt to make sense out of seemingly senseless atrocities. The Sandy Hook School shooter was categorized as evil. The terrorists that drove planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11 were also described as evil. This evil was fueled by hatred. Hatred’s fire is stoked by intense and prolonged anger. Anger is ignited by an underlying feeling such as fear, resentment, and blame. Indelible anger can inflame hatred which can lead to what we’ve deemed as ‘evil.’ This has led to indescribable acts of violence and destruction and will continue until we unpack this trajectory and focus on the cause. 

The essence begins with unmitigated pain. Take the Sandy Hook School shooter for example. He was isolated, rejected, and bullied, most likely from kindergarten onward. This un-extinguished suffering negatively impacts us all because eventually this neglect can be acted out in rageful ways specifically intended to off put that pain and suffering onto as many others as possible. The resulting prolific fear dwells within us with lasting deleterious effects, physically, mentally, and emotionally. In other words, if we don’t attend to the initial suffering it has the potential to escalate into violence which ultimately affects us all.  

One outcome of designating good versus evil is the ability to exonerate ourselves from responsibility. It creates a sense of us versus them. They are the evil ones and, of course, we are good. And that’s that. But how often do we go beyond the obvious and ask ourselves, why? What led the evil ones to do those indescribable acts of terror? Could they have been prevented? And, the toughest question of all, do I have some responsibility? Was there an action or inaction on my part that might have led directly, or indirectly, to the pain that ultimately caused the suffering that led to the heinous act? Who takes responsibility after the fact other than the perpetrator? Yes, of course, they are the ones that commited the crime but is there an underlying accountability of others that laid the path in advance? Perhaps these atrocities will continue, even escalate, until we all raise our hands and commit to being part of the solution.

Humans are born with a negative bias, a natural focus on what might harm us. This evolutionary tendency extends to the thoughts we think and even our memories. This natural propensity helps to keep us safe, but can lead to cynicism; even our penchant for either/or thinking and taking sides can be attributed to this predisposition. We’ve tried for decades to mitigate societal issues such as violence, substance abuse, suicide, and even bullying. However, our focus on the negative issues has only aided and abetted their growth. In some instances, we meet the issue with the same mentality — an eye for an eye or similar distorted reasoning. 

‘Survival of the fittest’ is the best known slogan assigned to us as our evolutionary human nature. This term, incorrectly attributed to English naturalist, geologist, and biologist Charles Darwin, was not his conclusion.  In the Descent of Man, Darwin deduced the species that will evolve successfully will be the ones that are the most ‘sympathetic’ to one another. By sympathetic he meant: altruistic, generous, and compassionate. This makes common sense. We survive, and even thrive, through healthy relationships, meaningful connections, and dare I say it? Love. Without these, we suffer.

Does evil equate to suffering? Let’s consider the opposite — love. If you had a choice, which would you choose? Love is connection, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. Evil stems from prolonged anger, hatred, and violence. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love…” This is a perpetual truth stated by legendary civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We assume this is being done in our homes and communities. Far too often, however, the opposite is being cultivated through trauma and disconnection. It is necessary for our schools to pick up the slack. The want and need to love and be loved is what connects us all as human beings. When you are taught character social emotional development, you have the skills and tools to choose love. This is not an innate ability, it must be learned.

So I am for love (i.e. good), not against hate (i.e. evil). There is a difference. The latter is based on our negative bias and concentrates on what we don’t want. We know how that ends. What we focus on grows. Focusing on love gives us a goal to achieve, and it feels good. It leads to belonging, provides meaning and purpose in our lives, and guides us toward flourishing. It is actually a choice that we make, every day, from the time we wake up until we put our heads back on the pillow. Do I choose love or fear? This is a question we must each ask ourselves, each day, perhaps several times a day, that determines the outcome of every decision we make.

Love is a choice. And yes, love can be taught. In fact, it must be.


  • Scarlett Lewis

    Chief Movement Officer

    Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement

    Scarlett Lewis founded the nonprofit Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement after her son was murdered during the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy in December 2012. Shortly after his death, Scarlett decided to be part of the solution to the issues that we're seeing in our society -- and that also caused the tragedy -- and turned it into an opportunity to build a culture of love, resilience, and forgiveness into our communities at a time when it is needed the most. Scarlett created Choose Love and became an advocate for social and emotional learning (SEL) and character development that teaches children how to manage their emotions, feel connected, and have healthy, meaningful relationships. Choose Love is a no cost, comprehensive, lifespan, next generation SEL character development program that teaches children and adults how to thoughtfully respond with love in any situation by using the Choose Love Formula (Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion-in-Action), and teaches children how to handle adversity, have courageous conversations, and to respond with love. Choose Love has been downloaded in all 50 states and 100 countries, reaching over 1.9 million children.  Choose Love extends beyond the classroom through additional no cost programs, including Choose Love at Home, Choose Love for Communities, and Champions Choose Love for young athletes. In direct response to COVID-19, Choose Love created numerous free resources to help children and adults deal with the stress and anxiety of this uncertain time.  Also, to help support educators and students as they navigate the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Choose Love created a free social-emotional wellness program, “Choosing Love in Our Brave New World.” This re-entry unit was designed to help transition students back to a new normal of education whether it’s in class or distance learning with particular awareness of the current events and environment, and fosters the development of a growth mindset and perseverance. Lessons incorporate trauma-sensitive, healing-centered language and practices which are based on the latest neuroscience and post-traumatic growth research. Scarlett has traveled extensively throughout the United States to share her inspiring and empowering story and her far-reaching programs. Currently, she is conducting numerous virtual presentations to spread her mission. Scarlett has spoken at multiple national conferences including National Forum on Character; SXSW EDU; ASCD Empower; Music City SEL conference in Nashville; and presented at the TedX Fayetteville. Scarlett and the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement has been featured in the New York Times; BBC; Fox News; CBS News; Today Show; The Guardian; and many regional papers and has been featured in high-profile magazines, including Fortune; Strive; and the Huffington Post. She has a podcast speaking about the character traits that comprise the Choose Love Formula and how the formula can be used in any circumstance to promote self-empowerment; resilience, connection; and optimism. Scarlett is also a frequent contributor to other podcasts. Visit