Humans are capable of both immeasurable compassion and unthinkable horrors. History records scores of examples for both. There are multitudes of examples of both good and evil in history books, novels, and today’s newspaper.
The fact that history reads extraordinarily like today’s news tells a story. Many people believe human character is generally “good,” with only rare glimpses of “evil.” Jean Piaget (1896–1980) claims that young humans are egocentric. Simply, this means a child’s understanding of the “world” pictures himself at the center. Everything exists in relationship to self. Some time between ages 7 – 12, children are supposed to begin to demonstrate an increased ability to appreciate and relate to the world around them. They develop the capability of varying their perspective cognitively. In other words, they are able to put themselves in another’s shoes on occasion. Egocentrism is expected to diminish as development continues through adolescence to adulthood.
In today’s news, story after story exposes numerous adult individuals with an inability to see other people’s viewpoints. From politicians to businessmen, religious to atheist, wealthy to poverty stricken, Americans (all human?) suffer from the excesses of self-indulgence, or egocentricity. Obesity, diabetes, alcoholism and drug abuse, promiscuity, and even gender confusion have their roots in egocentrism directly or indirectly. Development is stunted, and the human capacity for perspective, for compassion and empathy are not achieved. Friends murder friends over a “love triangle.” Children beat parents with baseball bats just to see what it feels like. Parents, passed out on heroin neglect their toddlers and live in squalor. Mothers kill their babies; husbands kill their wives. Wars are fought over land, religion, and lofty ideals. This is survival of the fittest?
Humans are NOT basically good, unless an inability (or unwillingness?) to see other people’s viewpoints is good. Humans have the ability to rise above their “base nature” (so-called because it is the base, the lowest), but it must be a choice, a determination. “Other-mindedness” must be taught and learned, but our culture calls thoughtfulness passé, or passes it off as religious, and therefore, undesirable. Selfcontrol and selfrestraint can be attained with minimal effort if desired, but no one broadcasts the benefits, so they are not sought after by many. From our leadership down to the smallest child, egocentrism is hailed as the American way. Self-fulfillment is our goal and purpose. How shallow!
After centuries of evolutionary growth and development, it seems reasonable to expect humans might have achieved some measurable genetic advance. Certainly, advancements in technology and medicine are evident, but have these improved the fundamental human? I think not. Knowledge has increased, but where is the increase in wisdom to rightly apply this knowledge? Human nature has not changed, neither his psyche, in all of recorded history. It is only when society deems a selfless character as something to be desired that humans will again rise above their (our) base nature and move toward the amazingly creative and compassionate beings we’re designed to be. Evolution is not a “given” but a “goal!”