Saturday, December 08, 2007

Humanity: Basically Good or Basically Evil?

When I got home (from swimming!) last night, I was the only one home. Tom soon arrived home from work and we assumed that we were the only ones home to get a tree. (I'd invited all four kids plus one friend each to help decorate the tree and bake cookies today, but as far as we knew they were all busy last night.)

We decided to go out for dinner and then get a tree. Just as we were ready to go, Peter and Danelle came home, so of course we invited them to come with us. Then, as the four of us were ready to get in the car, Aleks arrived home from work. We asked him if he wanted to go get a tree, but he declined... until he found out that dinner was included. Suddenly, my strapping 6-footer was in! (And I was ready to change the dinner plans to McDonalds!)

The five of us picked out a lovely tree and headed to our favorite Chinese restaurant. The conversation somehow turned to stupid things people do... which turned to the question of whether people are basically good or evil. To me, this has been an absolute no-brainer and actually has been, I realize, a big part of how I look at life.

People are basically good, with an idiot-dummy thrown in here and there for, well, for bad measure. Duh. Just look at the examples of the past few hours and days: the woman at the Christmas tree lot remembered us from last year, coming in on December 23rd, just after the power was back on after the 9-day storm... and our 9-day trip to Hawaii. She spoke of how great the people of our town have been -- bringing them warm meals and hot chocolate on the really cold nights. And look at how quickly the Pacific Northwest community came together to support the flood victims! There were so many donations of food and clothing, some had to be turned away! I could go on and on.

I rest my case. People are definitely basically GOOD.

Oh nooooooo... everyone else insisted. People are basically bad. Naughty. Evil -- with a few do-gooders thrown in for good measure. Really, they insisted (all four of them!), people are generally jerks, and are mostly on good behavior only when watched or when given external motivation. Look at all the bad things people do to each other all around the world, all through history. They rest their case.

This has been bothering me ever since. Especially coming from my family -- people who are really down-to-the-core GOOD, altruistic, generous, kind people. They believe that humanity is basically evil?! It's just a bummer of a realization -- and I can't help but wonder where this came from and whether I did -- or didn't do -- something to influence that attitude.

Sigh. Gotta go joyously string lights on the tree in joyous anticipation (yes, I'm being facetious!) of an afternoon of tree decorating and cookie baking with a household of basically good kids and their friends!

What do you believe? Are people (is humanity) basically GOOD or basically EVIL?

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18 comments:

d. chedwick bryant said...

It has been my experience that people are basically good, that any of the ignorant ones we meet want to be good, but stray from it for whatever reasons.

The few truly evil people out there are pathetic. I stay away from the pathtic ones as much as possible-- as little interaction as possible. When I am faced with an ignorant person I try to be patient and say little. I do meet loads of basically good people every day.

If the world was peopled with mostly bad people, the few good people left would be walking zombies and there would be no such thing as groups like Toys for Tots or Doctors without Borders.

we'd be living in Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls.

d. chedwick bryant said...

sorry about the typos-- I meant to say 'many' ignorant people rather than "any".

Casdok said...

Good?

emily said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
emily said...

Sorry, I hit 'Comment' too soon. I meant to say: Neither. Humans have the potential for good and the potential for evil, but I don't think that either one is necessarily inherent.

Anonymous said...

I think that most people are good people.

I find it interesting that everyone else at dinner with you felt the opposite. I assume they consider themselves and their friends good people. Do they honestly think they're such exceptions? :)

How'd the cookies come out? We got our tree and made fudge and brownies today. Not a great day for a diet!

Lynn

AA said...

I think good, because that has been my experience. I appreciate my good fortune. I suppose if I had been born to crack addicted parents or lived in Serbia perhaps I would see things differently.

gawilli said...

I think that people are generally good in nature, it's just that sometimes you really have to look for it. And sometimes I find that it shows up in the most unexpected times. But that's when it counts.

Gawilli

Anonymous said...

You left out the biggest question. Do they all think that they (and you) are all basically jerks too? If so, they're all just cynical, if not ... they're all just delusional ... ;)

Berlinbound said...

I have to come down on the side of "good" because otherwise I wouldn't be able to leave the apartment.


And thanks for stopping in and commenting yesterday ... and for all your visits.

Best,
Richard

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase author M. Scott Peck's definition of evil (which is "live" spelled backwards, incidentally), evil people are those who basically want to stamp the life (physical or psychological) out of others. By that definition, I believe most people are NOT evil, just confused, immature, and/or unenlightened.

In Peck's book, "People of the Lie: the Hope for Healing Human Evil" he draws the distinction between evil deeds and the evil personality. He says, "Evil deeds do not the person make. Otherwise we should all be evil, because we all do evil things."

Excerpts from the book:

"It is not their sins that characterize evil people, rather it is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it."

"As a result of their refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness, the evil ones become uncorrectable grab bags of sin. They are, for instance, in my experience, remarkably greedy people."

"Strangely enough, evil people are often destructive because they are attempting to destroy evil. The problem is that they misplace the locus of the evil. Instead of destroying others they should be destroying the sickness within themselves. As life often threatens their self-image of perfection, they are often busily engaged in hating and destroying that life--usually in the name of righteousness."

"The words 'image,' 'appearance,' and 'outwardly' are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to BE good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their 'goodness' is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. This is why they are the 'people of the lie.'"

"...while the evil people are still to be feared, they are also to be pitied. Forever fleeing the light of self-exposure and the voice of their own conscience, they are the most frightened of human beings. They live their lives in sheer terror. They need not be consigned to any hell; they are already in it." (pgs. 67-75)

This was maybe way more than you wanted, but I think it is a truly fascinating subject and well worth investigating.

A.W.

blackcrag said...

Actually, I think people are generally indifferent, they are looking to live their lives without making waves. There are good people and there are bad people in the world, but they add flavour (both sweet and sour) to an otherwise neutral stew.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I'm with you - people are basically good.

I do believe that if folks are pushed too hard, they can become bad. I think our society doesn't have great priorities at the moment, so we may not have the usual balance of good to bad.

Does that make any sense or am I totally babbling?

Anonymous said...

Probably everyone's responses here reflect what they believe to be true about themselves.

Rositta said...

I would like to think that people are basically good and treat all people that way. On occasion I am disappointed though, sigh...ciao

Goofball said...

children are intrinsically good, so doesn't that prove your point?

but I do think we have a genetic love for being selfish leading to more nastiness?

Becky said...

I'm with you. They are mostly good. Don't let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, babe. Or a few bad seeds in a sack full. Yeah.

Jana said...

I think most people are generally good at heart. My hubby disagrees. But he works at a prison, so he has become pretty cynical about mankind.

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