Do you think humans are essentially good, or inherently evil?
I’ve often heard people comment that when they look at a tiny child’s face they see pure innocence. We sniff a new baby’s head, cuddle them closely and imagine all the possibilities they have in store for them. They are physically and conceptually perfect. They are spiritually pure. They are all the goodness of life itself in one miniature little package.
Did Hitler’s mother look at her tiny baby Adolf and think those same things? Or was his evilness apparent even in his infancy?
Whether through our religious upbringings or our worldly experiences, at some point in our lives we come to question the innocence, purity and inherent goodness of humans. Maybe we were taught of original sin in Sunday School, or maybe we encountered a bully on the playground that pushed us down when we didn’t deserve it. At some point in our upbringing, we have each been faced with some form of evil. We know it exists – but why? How did it develop? Has it been here all along? Did we learn it, or is it our inherent nature?
The question of good vs. evil nature is a fundamentally critical question, because it sets the foundation for our experience on earth. We either see people as primarily good, and therefore trustworthy and deserving of respect, or we see humankind as primarily evil, and therefore we must reign in, punish, label, diminish, control and fear those around us.
If we approach life itself as intrinsically evil, then it becomes our duty to rehabilitate ourselves and the evil beings around us. We can see this demonstrated in our culture in every aspect of our everyday life.
We see it at home, in church, in the military and at work. We see it at home, where we are told to discipline our children into submission so they can obey authority and turn out to be good little boys and girls. We see it in church, when we pour water over a tiny baby’s head to cleanse them from sin, and then pound the Ten Commandments into their brains so they know what not to do in life. We see it in the military, where soldiers are taught to put loyalty to their country about their own interests, whether that costs them their lives or just their sanity. We see it at work, where we are expected to serve the interests of whatever boss that has hired us with little personal regard of the morality or lack thereof demonstrated by the company that employs us.
When we see people as inherently evil, flawed and unworthy, it’s natural to demand that people earn respect before we give it to them. We fight for the respect of those around us as we simultaneously hesitate to bestow our respect on others. We question others’ worthiness, and we question our own.
When we believe we are all evil at our cores, we naturally distrust and question and doubt every word others say. We expect the worst out of people, and that’s exactly what we get. We create rules and pass laws to keep everyone in line while building bigger prisons expecting to fill them with those that have disobeyed our newly passed laws. We judge and label in a vain attempt to keep ourselves safe from harm. We classify and group. We question and doubt. We lose faith.
When we see ourselves as bad, we can only see ugliness in the mirror. We stress about our flawed complexions and the love handles at our sides. We push ourselves through grueling workouts not for joy or exhilaration but as punishment for our imperfections.
When we view ourselves as evil, we feel shame and guilt for our human-ness. We cover up our insecurities with expensive purses, designer clothing and bigger homes to disguise our unworthiness. We soothe and numb ourselves with our alcohol, drugs, exercise, work and food.
When we believe we are inherently evil we fear ourselves and others. We put up defenses. We don’t let people in unless they do all sorts of things to earn our trust. If we inherently distrust we feel in our bones that someone is always to blame, so we find someone or something to blame for every real or perceived problem in our world. We know someone is wrong, and we don’t want it to be us. We focus on self-preservation. We make it a “you-or-me” world, not a “you-and-me” one.
I’m tired of living in a you-or-me world.
I don’t want to fight with everyone all the time. I don’t want to fight with myself anymore. I don’t want to distrust the stranger on the street and I don’t want to cringe when I look at myself in the mirror. I want to believe in the inherent goodness in the world.
Are we flawed? Hell, yes, we are flawed! We stumble and fall, and we make messes, and we cause destruction in our worlds. Yet, we also get back up on our feet. We clean up our messes. We recognize our mistakes and we focus on improving the world, because the world is a beautiful, messy place that is worthy of improvement.
We are flawed, but we are worthy. We are good. And, if we are good at our core, we can trust in the world and those around us, and we can even trust in ourselves.
I believe that, and I know that other people believe that, too. We can listen to politicians and employers and squeaky wheels screaming that people are evil and life is hard, but we don’t have to believe them. We can believe in our inherent goodness, and we can start to believe that we are good enough.
I have a choice in every interaction I have with people in my life to view them with trust and compassion, or fear and doubt. I can choose today to give my husband the gift of understanding. I can choose today to trust in the goodness of my children’s hearts even as they scribble on the walls and poke each other in the sides. I can choose today to see the stressed and strained and straggly strangers I encounter at the store, at the library and at the gas station and see the light inside of them, extending them grace and kindness instead of vengeance and suspicion.
I can choose to see humans as inherently evil, or inherently good. I choose to see the good.
Will you join me?