Alternate Title: The perception of evil is an interesting topic to discuss
[Disclaimer: I might be in a ranting mood.]
Have you noticed that when it’s suddenly time to be optimistic about humanity that specific
lies universal claims pop up?
Then allow me to be ahead of the curve this time and name some of the common ones. It’s our innate and unlimited capacity:
- For Compassion
- For Empathy
- To adapt
- For Forgiveness
- For Love
Do you catch my drift now?
Now, I’m not saying that humanity as a whole doesn’t subscribe to that list. [I have insufficient data to make that call.]
My belief is just that not every person instinctively does.
Some people have little compassion or empathy. Actually, many, if not all of us, have blatantly ignored someone in need before. Or maybe have even dismissed someone we know and their problems because it wasn’t something we cared about or wanted to “deal with” at the moment.
[And sure, that can be understandable because sometimes we can’t handle other people’s problems. But, society loves to paint a picture wherein a perfect world we would help everyone at any moment because that’s the “right” approach.]
Other people are horrible at change and adapting to new environments and/or situations. They can get so cranky or anxious that they have significant trouble functioning.
And let’s not forget that some people love to hold grudges but hate to love others.
[I know, I know. This sound like a lot of “negativity.”]
So, if we’re going to talk about humanity and why we should be optimistic or “come together” then I want to hear something that actually sounds universally true. Otherwise, an appeal to humanity that is built on exclusion (or optimistic claims that definitely don’t hold for everyone)… then what does that say about humanity?
People aren’t monsters
Claims like the ones I’ve mentioned, obviously exclude a portion of humanity. They intend to speak to the “best” in us. The part of us that we (supposedly) naturally treasure as human beings and consider the epitome of traits as a society.
And so, it easily can come across that you’re “not human” or “not good enough” if you’re not like that. But, the simple matter of things is that humanity is varied. Some people are nearly perfect “goody-two-shoes.” Others… well, to flip the usual phrase around, some monsters are people. Those are our two extremes. And of course, almost everyone falls somewhere between those two markers.
And I want to point this out because if we want to live in whatever world optimists imagine, then I don’t think it can be done with an absolute optimistic mindset. We’re not going to rid the world of all evil. And to be frank, I doubt we’ll manage to get rid of half of it by pretending evil people don’t exist or just need to be loved more. [Unless that kind of Armageddon is a real thing.]
Even so, I don’t think every bad person has to cease to exist for humanity to be in good standing. And this isn’t to say we shouldn’t strive to make humanity as evil-free as possible. But, rather that we should appreciate each step towards it. There has to be a middle ground between caring so little that we encourage evil to take root and caring so much that each evil act breaks and condemns us.
I figure people are only bad or evil once their negative actions outweigh their good ones. This means our focus should simply be about whether or not our morality is perceived to tip towards positive or negative. The acceptable goal isn’t “perfection,” it’s “good enough.”
Why are some people evil?
And I get it. Defining “good enough” is subjective and possibly arbitrary. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t suffice. It doesn’t mean we can’t teach ourselves to regularly behave in ways that promote consideration for others and personal happiness. And I think that at least part of how we can do this is by rethinking how we view “evil.”
I know it’s probably easier to think that every bad person is bad because X happened or they were just born that way. But, you know what? That’s too simple of an explanation.
I don’t doubt that by the nature of existence, that some people are more prone to turn out evil. If bad things continuously happen to you, then sure, perhaps you are more likely to make peace with evil and utilize it.
But, you know what? The path of “bad things happened to me so now I’m going to spread the misery around,” is just one path. And I know that doesn’t make it more or less prominent, but that’s part of my point. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t “fit” the expectation. Like how some rebels make life suck for others, some people defy the status quo for good. Sometimes the greatest defender and helper of the innocent are people who so easily could have been the villain.
[Reocurring Thought: It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I wonder how many of those people would list themselves as a hero or just “good” during their lifetime. Or did they think what they were doing was objectively terrible, but worth it?]
And this kind of “exception to the rule” is something that I think society needs to desperately remember more. Because we love to write people off as hopeless or monsters, but I think rarely consider the bigger impact that may have. You never know who someone will be when they breathe their final breath. But, the things we say or the silences we keep, can be like little thorns plucking away someone’s will to do better.
[And it’s not like simply condemning or ignoring someone’s crimes or ostracizing them is a fantastic solution.]
That’s why I think if you want people to act decently then start by acknowledging them all as human. Don’t assume that not every person who doesn’t check off a box (whether it’s compassion or forgiveness) is the “wrong-sort.” Or try to “brush off” terrible deeds as something only a “monster” would.
The true nature of evil
My mother loves to say, “that’s a very sick puppy,” when she’s watching a crime show and the villain is particularly sinister.
And trust me, I get the sentiment. Most of us are (understandably) appalled by evil acts, especially when the evildoer seems so normal. Perhaps there’s a personal salvation to be found by denouncing the worst humans as something other. How else can one be expected to cope, knowing that some of us can do such terrible things? There’s just something haunting in confronting or even sparing a fleeting thought as to our more sinister capabilities, sometimes even while projecting a life of innocence.
How does this happen?
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s obvious: it’s part of who we are.
Humanity is the people that come together during a crisis to share what little they have with others. Yet, it’s also the ones that take advantage of a tragedy to try and get ahead.
Humanity is as much the people who accept their loss and strive to keep going, as the people whose knees buckle to the floor and never rise again.
All of those and in between are who we are.
And yes, this is why I hate the whole “empathetic and love” as humanity’s natural defining traits. It makes for some great movie moments. But, in the real world, it’s often a joke to people who we would want to change the minds of. It’s also dismissive to the countless people that aren’t emotionally motivated, but still, work hard to be decent people.
[For the record, you don’t have to empathize with someone to lend a hand. Actually, you can despise someone and still do so. Why? Because “matter of principle” is very much a thing.]
People aren’t perfect
So, let’s return to my opening complaint about how humanity probably shouldn’t be narrowed down to adaptability or compassion, or such.
I know those are seen as morally good qualities to be defined by. I also acknowledge that for many people, believing that humanity is by definition “good” is important. And I’m actually not saying any of that is wrong. Honestly, I do agree that adaptability and compassion are good virtues to be defined by. Maybe the other ones I’ve listed too.
But, the point I want to make here is that humanity is many things and that includes a potential for good and bad. So, I think only hyper-promoting positive traits manage to be detrimental in the end. Because it even isolates and shuns people that don’t exhibit certain virtues, yet aren’t bad people. And it can damage those people while pushing away the same people we hope to change. Maybe it’s another sign of toxic positivity. Or it’s just the nature of life that someone always gets marked the villain or falls through the cracks.
Regardless, what I am confident about is that if you don’t communicate to someone in a way they understand and accept then you’re not going to connect to them in the first place. And so any “for humanity” speech, ad, or universal objective should actually aim to include everyone.