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Human Nature

Submitted by Ken Watts on Sat, 11/18/2006 - 13:13

Among the differences I have with my friend across the cultural divide is our view of human nature. He believes that we are defective, as a species.

This is not necessarily a religious issue. There are churches that teach "Original Sin", or "the Total Depravity of Man", and churches that have a high view of humanity.

I've been trying to reconstruct how I changed my mind about this issue. The change came when I was still an active teacher in the church, when I still believed in capital letters, and all that went with that.

Oddly enough, it was just those beliefs that led me to change my position. I began to notice that the passages in the Bible which were used to support this idea didn't say what I had been taught. Some of them said less, and some said the opposite.

But then something else happened. Once I questioned this belief, I actually began to look inside myself, and at the people around me.

I noticed how people behaved—the real, everyday, people I knew, as opposed to the cardboard phantoms we hear about on the news, or see in movies. And I found that ninety percent of the time, real people are quite wonderful.

We tend to be caring, loving, and kind. We tend to be helpful. We hold doors for each other, let others go ahead of us in the grocery line, chase perfect strangers down the street with the purse they left behind.

In extreme circumstances, we do things like rushing into collapsing buildings to save others, or dedicate years to caring for a sick family member.

Our entire culture is dependent on the inherent cooperation and honesty of ordinary people. There could never be enough police to enforce order in our society if this were not true—they are there for the rare exceptions, not the rule.

My wife recently had to leave her car at an airport parking lot in another city for eleven days. She discovered, at the opposite end of the flight, that her keys were missing.

A week later, a friend from work went out of his way to retrieve them for her—completely unasked. He found them in the trunk lock, in full view of the world. Nobody had touched them.

The media tend to focus on the rare person who would steal the purse, rather than chase its owner down. And we are encouraged to base government policies on the handful who might cheat, rather than on the majority who don't.

Worse of all, we apply the lesson to ourselves. We've been taught to believe that if we don't watch ourselves very closely, our perverseness will take over, and we'll do who knows what.

Well, it just isn't true.

We may not always behave in exactly the way we feel we should have, but on the whole, most of the time, our natural inclinations are healthy, kind—and occasionally heroic.

At least, that's what I think today.