I don’t want to be a bad person, but why does it seem so hard to be nice sometimes?
Is it really our nature to be cruel and selfish?
Are people naturally good or bad?
At some point, one way or another, consciously or subconsciously, we’ve asked about our true natures and the humanity. Sometimes, we seek confirmation and crave explanations. More often, we are just plain curious, being the pensive beings that we are. How are we supposed to think or behave, how do we explain one’s self?
The clash of evidence
There are numerous data everywhere, all with their own point of view and basis of explanation. Science versus religion versus philosophies. Whether we are inherently good or bad beings has been a subject of debate and studies for years and years.
Several research studies says that man is good. The most popular is the one in which babies are the subjects. We are all aware of the babies’ innocence. They are the closest thing to which we could consider as blank subjects. They have not yet been influenced by society and the environment nor honed by any cultural setting and knowledge.
Although babies could not speak, indicators like their attention span, gestures, choices and movements had been used as cues and then interpreted. They were shown scenarios, put under controlled circumstances, and given things to choose from. And the results, turns out they always preferred good or positive things over bad or negative ones.
But then again, on the contrary, there had been a research that found genes engraved in humans that raises the likelihood of a person being antisocial or inconsiderate. It identified some genes to be the said source of one’s negative actions. It doesn’t justify bad actions nor claims genes as the culprit for evilness. But rather, it points out that this could be downplayed by the help of conditioning and education by the society, environment, and teachers. It is implying that people are naturally strained with evil, and that we should be nurtured by external forces.
There’s Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and their conflicting views. Hobbes believed that men are naturally bestial, only rescued by civilization. On the other hand, Rousseau believed otherwise. He believed that men used to be noble savages, only spoiled by civilization. His basic thesis was man is naturally good, and anything that is not natural has corrupted us from the natural state.
The list of philosophers and great thinkers with opposing views could go on and on, some even with conflicting views on their own. Great words versus great words that could be used in line with or against another.
As per the bible, in the beginning, we were made in the image of God. To get into the interpretation of it, we were made in His image spiritually; we were holy like Him. There used to be no sin, until Adam and Eve fell into temptation. Since then, the nature of man has changed. And then the idea of the original sin was made.
According to Paul on the book of Romans in chapter 3 verse 23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It means that we could not ever achieve the high standards of God’s goodness as we are all sinful. None of us are morally perfect enough to be ever in line with the Lord. This could even be further confirmed on the book of Psalms on chapter 51 verse 5 where David says "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."
Asking the right question
Evidently, we are all born innocent, but not a blank slate. Even research and experiments have proven that babies are born with a certain sense of morality and an instinct to prefer the good over the evil. It can be seen anywhere; you may have even experienced it yourself. On the other hand, history gives proof to the nature of humans. We aren’t absolutely good nor bad. That regardless of the goodness we possess, there is also a prewired human nature deep within us. One that ultimately has the tendency to be selfish and hurting towards others in order to protect one’s self and loved ones in times of danger and conflict.
This is not the same with Rousseau’s argument that humans are naturally good, that we are only spoiled by civilization and our surroundings. We were born with a sense of morality and natural penchant for the good, but also with evil that just waits to come out given the opportunity.
Children were not taught to be bad-mannered; nevertheless, they tend to act selfishly toward other kids as they become a toddler. We’ve seen mothers everywhere who’ve had a hard time instilling in their precious little angels the manners and conduct a being must possess.
Another example is that everyone loves at some point or another, and love itself is good. But then again, because of uncontrolled human nature that comes as naturally as love, some loves tend to be irrational and controlling, causing evil.
The question of whether we are inherently good or bad is not wrong, but rather, ambiguous. We, humans, are all complex beings. We are born with all the potentials to be good or bad, the heart to decide whom to love or despise, and the mind to decide freely based on a certain set of laws or by intuition. We are neither “premade” nor hardwired to be good nor bad.
“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other…”
Tao Te Ching
Everything exists in dual forms. The good and the bad are the inseparable aspects of life. They are not absolute, but instead, relative. Good and bad only exists because they define each other, and they define us.