April 25, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Human

What is the state of your heart?

That’s one of life’s hard questions. Popular culture tells us to listen to our hearts, follow our hearts, lead with our hearts, and so on. The assumption is that people are basically good and that our hearts, (our emotional centers) will lead us to good things in life. We are told not to over-think things, to do what “feels” right.

At some point, one must ask, “Is this good advice?”

It is nice to think that people are naturally good; such a thought gives us a sense of security in a world that is often unsafe. And yet, the fact that our world is a dangerous place is due in no small part to the actions of… people. So what’s the truth of the matter? If people are naturally, innately “good,” it logically follows that we should all at least try to get along with each other, treat each other fairly, and help each other whenever we have the opportunity to do so. If asked whether these traits are good, most people would immediately answer, “Yes.”

We try to be good. Most of us do, anyway. But how do we explain the things which we consider to be “bad” or “evil?” Consider topics like murder, rape, genocide, racism, and violence. Ask someone if these traits are good, and you would (hopefully) get a swift, “No!” How, then, do we explain these actions if people are inherently good at heart?

“There’s something wrong with them?”

That answer might explain isolated incidents and crimes committed by individuals, but it does not address the wider picture. We see acts of hatred and violence displayed on a grand scale. One horrific example in recent history would be the Holocaust of World War II, but there have been countless others. Can we say “There was something wrong” with entire nations, governments, or civilizations, while maintaining the belief that people are essentially good?

Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV) states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” We are fooling ourselves if we believe humanity is naturally “good.” Is this statement harsh?

Absolutely. Yes.

There is a reason that we say, “Nobody’s perfect.” The truth about humanity is grim - even frightening. I say this not to point a finger at any other person, but rather to point the finger at myself. Once I understand that it is in my nature to do things that benefit myself at someone else’s expense, to put myself first even if it means hurting someone else, or somehow elevate myself above others, and that these traits are bad things, I then come to realize that I have no justification for treating any other person badly.

I must recognize that I am flawed, that I am not perfect, and that I have it within myself to do things that are wrong. Bad. Evil. It is only by recognizing my own shortcomings that I can consider other people to be my equals. If I believe that I have no faults, or if I am blind to the ones I most assuredly do have, then I may be tempted to think that I am better than you in some way, be it large or small. Fortunately, I have the knowledge that I am as "bad" as any other person.

None of this means that I have (or advocate a system of) low self-worth.Every person has value (myself included), but I must keep in mind that my value is no greater than yours. Once I recognize that others are as valuable as me, I must then treat every single person I meet with the same dignity and respect which I would expect from them. This is the foundation of the Golden Rule, as presented in Luke 6:31 (NKJV),“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”

In doing so, humanity may yet overcome the bad and approach the One who is truly Good.

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