good or evil cats       It’s an age-old deliberation, but the question persists: are we humans inherently good or evil?  Or some entanglement of both? Is it a question perhaps of nature and nurture, or of deep psychology, or our evolutionary adaptations, or a combination?
     The question dissolves in the non-dual world, of course, and if it’s not of interest to you, that’s sweet 🙂  Feel free to move on.  Still, for many of us, it arises now and then.  For example, in the wake of the Charlottesville horror, and the ongoing outrageous attacks around the world, I found myself pondering it again…. are we inherently compassionate and altruistic, or deeply flawed and malevolent, down at our core? Are we good or evil, in other words.  And when do our tendencies start to manifest… if in childhood, how early?
       I have conducted no research, nor delved deeply into the massive literature.  But I certainly have numerous examples of people going out of their way to be good, and this constantly warms my heart.  The simplest one is that drivers stop to let me, on foot, bike, or roller-blades, cross the street, even though there is no one behind them. They just want to be helpful.  And the way people join together or act individually, heroically, over-the-top generously, in times of trouble  — say after 9/11, or hurricanes, or other natural or manmade disasters.
good or evil?
       So what about the perpetrators of the heinous deeds we are steadily informed about in the daily news?  What’s happening in and for these people?
       I had a simple insight, but it really resonated with me.  People are inherently good, kind, altruistic, generous — EXCEPT when they feel threatened.  And if, in their early years, they have been hurt, and witnessed, or been subject to, horrors themselves, this increases the likelihood that when they feel threatened, they will resort to harming others.
good or evil? when does it start       If I look at the videos of the White Supremacists in Charlottesville, and manage to hold back my judgments, my fear for our country and culture that these behaviors bring up in me, I see people who look threatened, who’ve probably been deeply hurt, scared, abused…early and often; people whose way of life is, quite literally, being threatened, as we speak.  In other contexts, it’s entirely possible that these people are kind and generous, but in the face of threat, they take the low road.
       Xenophobia, which has deep biological, survival roots, also makes sense when seen this way.  This may not be the total picture… it turns out, I gather, that people assess themselves to me more generous that they really are, nearly all of us lie, cheat, and steal on occasion.  So I’m sure my insight needs expansion and qualification, but it’s been helpful to me:  we are intrinsically kind and helpful, most of the time.  The big exception is when we feel threatened, scared, in danger.
       So let’s bring it home.  How does this fit for you?  When are you kind, altruistic, good or evil balancecompassionate, and when are you inclined to focus on yourself, regardless of what others around you need or want?  Are you good or evil, a beneficial presence, or malevolent, or both?  Does my theory fit for you?
       Oh, and what do we do with this information?  Well, we work to create safe, sane, kind, inclusive, respectful environments for all of us.  Right! 🙂
       In case you’re interested in the topic, here are some further references:
Be Home a selection from Rick Hanson’s illuminating blog, Just One Thing
Documentary from BBC: Are We Naturally Good or Bad?
And there are many full-length film documentaries on the topic.
     Your comments and questions are most welcome.  We’re in this together, for better and worse!
Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, and growth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook :-)
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