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What Is Human Nature?

What Is Human Nature?

I had a fascinating conversation recently about human nature. I tend to view people as essentially good, while others would say that humans are naturally self-interested and express compassion and respect for others only because it is socially necessary. My fiancÚ believes that humans are neutral by nature: that we have the potential to do good and bad things, and it is what we make of ourselves that is important.

I see his point. To believe that humans are either good or bad by nature suggests some sort of intelligent design, which I do not believe in. And I see his point, that trumping up human nature romanticizes our existence, in a sense. When it comes down to it, we simply are what we are. His argument makes sense to me.

However, I believe there is more to it than that. Perhaps we are neutral by nature. But, while I don’t believe in intelligent design, I do consider myself a spiritual person. To me, spirituality is any experience that connects us to one another and to the planet on which we live. Enjoying the company of family and friends and experiencing the beauty of nature make us feel good on a fundamental level.

Therefore, while we may be neutral by nature, it is positive experiences that make us feel happy and alive. Most of us are inclined to engage in such activities, rather than destructive ones. However, if we experience some sort of emotional trauma, we can turn away from those inclinations and become serial killers or tobacco executives. So essentially, what I believe about human nature is this: we are born neutral but with inclinations toward enjoying positive experiences – our ability to follow those inclinations is determined by any emotional trauma we experience, as well as the decisions we make on our life path.

 

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.

26 comments

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3:56AM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

"So essentially, what I believe about human nature is this: we are born neutral but with inclinations toward enjoying positive experiences – our ability to follow those inclinations is determined by any emotional trauma we experience, as well as the decisions we make on our life path."

I agree with the author's assessment. Humans are complex and the idea that we are all essentially evil or essentially bad can be either too optimistic or too pessimistic. There are some who believe that humans are a living walking cancerous plague on the planet or are misanthropes detesting anything and everything human. This is not to say that some humans are not capable of horrific evil but the idea that most of us are blots and a plague on the planet seems rather pessimistic. There is great evil in the world but there is also hope and good.

1:03AM PST on Dec 21, 2012

Thank you :-)

11:10AM PST on Nov 21, 2012

Thanks.

9:36AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

I work in a department store as a cashier and I see the different sides of human nature. Most people are polite and pleasant. Some are not so friendly and not concerned with social niceties.
Then there are the few who are downright rude and unreasonable. How everyone gets to be the way they are, I'm not so sure. The age old question is why do people want to hurt each other? Why can't we just get along?

10:57AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

hmmm

7:25AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

I think people are inclined to be good but with emotional trauma we can turn away from those inclinations and become Republicans.

3:46AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

I love how tobacco executives are indeed paired with serial killers...best laugh I had all night.. Thanks!

12:02AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

I agree.

2:40PM PDT on Jul 26, 2012

thank you

3:16PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

I think that co-operation as a servival strategy is the reason people do 'good', and we've also come to realize that it 'feels good' to do good.
Destruction of self and others would indicate a mal-functioning gene that became so fragmented there are no dots to connect any more.

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