Defeating Evil with Compassion

Recently I was telling a friend who practices Aikido and likes Lord of the Rings about my blog and that I like to write about both. A joke went around the table about Frodo doing Aikido. I laughed but it got me thinking…Frodo *does* do Aikido! As do two of my other favorite heroes. It reminded me of something I’d written a couple of years ago. Here is how the Aiki spirit of non-harming, of resolving conflict through love, plays out in three of my favorite stories.


How do we fight evil? With more force, bigger weapons, anger, hate?

What do our stories teach us? Let’s look at my favorite three examples: Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.

In each story, there is a great evil pervading the land or universe. Great evil. Evil that wants to take over the entire world; evil that will stamp out all goodness. This is what the hero’s in each of these stories is up against.

So how do Harry, Luke, Frodo and Aragorn defeat this kind of evil? With love, kindness, mercy, empathy, and compassion.

When Harry meets Voldemort at the end and they duel, Harry does not use the killing curse. He uses the simple Expelliarmus spell, which only disarms an opponent. However, this creates a rebound effect on Voldemort’s killing curse.

Harry and Voldemort--final duel.
Harry and Voldemort–final duel.

The killing curse rebounds on Voldemort and kills him in turn. In essence, Voldemort’s evil intent kills him. Harry does not kill Voldemort. He is merely the implement by which Voldemort’s evil is destroyed.

At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke fights and finally defeats Darth Vader…but he DOES NOT kill him. Luke cuts off Darth Vader’s right hand, and in that moment, he recognizes himself in Vader. Luke looks at Vader’s hand, looks at his own hand (which had been cut off by Vader), and recognizes that he is becoming evil like Vader. He sees how his hate and anger will destroy him as it did Darth Vader. Luke deactivates his lightsaber as a sign of his disengagement with hate, anger, and evil. In the end Darth Vader destroys the main force of evil in the galaxy, the Emperor. It is Luke’s disengagement, his turning off the hate and anger (as symbolized by turning off his weapon), that propels the formerly evil Darth Vader to turn aside from his hate and anger and destroy the Emperor.

Frodo shows mercy and compassion for Gollum all through the long journey towards Mordor to destroy Sauron’s One Ring.

Frodo taking the rope off Gollum's neck.
Frodo taking the rope off Gollum’s neck.

It is that mercy that eventually wins out in the end. When Frodo cannot destroy the evil, the One Ring, Gollum takes it from him and falls in the fire of Mt. Doom, thus destroying himself and the Ring. If Frodo had not shown empathy for Gollum (for, like Luke seeing himself in Darth Vader, he saw himself in Gollum) along the way, the Ring would not have been destroyed, and evil would have won.

Aragorn also does his bit. He is willing to sacrifices himself (as do many others) to give Frodo and Sam time to destroy the Ring. By storming the Black Gate of Mordor and distracting Sauron from seeing what was going on in Mordor, he gives Frodo time. Aragorn believes he is doomed, he thinks that he will die in that battle, but he is willing to do it all the same. His love for his hobbit friends makes him willing to sacrifice himself.

All four of these hero’s do not only show that mercy, compassion, and love can defeat evil in the end. They show these traits over and over again throughout their journey’s.

Every time Harry meets Voldemort (in whatever guise) he defeats him, not with evil, or some matched force, but with love or compassion. When they meet in the graveyard, Harry uses Expelliarmus and this makes it so that the shadows of the people Voldemort killed appear out of Voldemort’s wand. These shadows all help Harry escape with his life. When Harry meets Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic and Voldemort is torturing him, Harry does not turn to thoughts of vengeance, but he thinks of his friends and family and how much he LOVES them. This overwhelming love breaks Voldemort’s hold over him.

Luke refusing to fight or give up on Vader.
Luke refusing to fight or give up on Vader.

Luke shows compassion for Darth Vader when he is taken captive by Vader. He believes there is humanity and goodness in Vader, if only he would let it out. Vader says that it’s too late for him, but Luke presses on. He never relents in his belief in Vader’s inherent goodness, and this love and empathy for Vader save them all in the end.

Frodo, of course, shows mercy and compassion for Gollum the moment he sees him. At the beginning of his journey he thought it was a shame that Bilbo hadn’t killed him when he had the chance. But, once Frodo sees how much of a miserable creature Gollum is, Frodo can’t help but pity him. He also shows empathy. He can see just how he, too, could become like Gollum. He understands the terrible pull of the One Ring.

Fiction can teach us so much about life. These well-loved stories tell us that evil cannot be defeated and destroyed by anger, hate, stronger evil, or a better weapon. Evil is defeated by the even stronger human traits of kindness, compassion, mercy, and love.

Do you agree? Do you have a favorite story that plays out like this?

2 thoughts on “Defeating Evil with Compassion”

  1. Nice post Kim. The one point I would like to add is that facing evil with compassion and kindness can be much more difficult than opposing with force. In their journeys, all three of your protagonists suffered immensely, and part of the heroicness of their stories is that they continued on in spite of their pain.
    And to continue the analogy to Aikido, learning to yield and re-direct opposing force is a more difficult concept to learn compared to opposing force with force. It seems to me that it would be so much easier to just hit an opponent or break a joint, as opposed to gently and firmly locking a joint without causing damage.
    My point is compassion can be difficult and painful, also may take longer to learn. Perhaps that is why we don’t see it as often as we’d like.

    1. kimberlysbarton

      Wow. Such a great point Jeff. You are absolutely right. They all suffered a great deal, and choosing compassion was a harder route to go. But, in the end, it saved the world! I feel like in Aikido when we make that choice of Aiki over aggression, we are helping the world one little bit at a time. It’s not dramatic, but it helps.

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