A while back, I read The Sociopath Next Door, by a Harvard psychologist named Martha Stout. I found the book to be both chilling and fascinating, and I’ve thought quite a bit about it since. According to Stout, as many as one in every 25 of us is a sociopath, described in the simplest terms as a person who has no conscience. Unlike what you see in the movies, most sociopaths are not violent predators or criminal masterminds. Some are very smart, and some are not so smart. Like the rest of us, they are motivated by different things. The sociopath could be a power-hungry corporate executive, he could be a guy who can’t hold a job and watches TV all day, or he could be that crabby neighbor who screams at the kids for walking on his lawn. Some sociopaths are better at masking their true natures and intentions than others of their ilk.
Stout asserts that sociopaths do share some common traits. Many of them have addictive personalities, most of them do not live very long, and all of them create drama, mayhem and heartbreak for those of us who are burdened with a conscience. In my years, I’ve crossed paths with two or three people whom I believe are sociopaths. I feel extremely fortunate that none of those people have ruined my life.
One point the author makes over and over again is that sociopaths cannot be reformed. A combination of nature and nurture makes these people hard-wired for evil. Nothing can be done to give them compassion or a moral compass. As a Christian, I have been taught to believe that all of us were made in God’s image, and that there is good in every person. As I have grown older and gained more experience, however, I have begun to wonder if Stout isn’t right. Maybe some people are just no good and beyond saving?
What do you think? Know any sociopaths? What effect have they had on your life?