Not Hope, But Sorrow
A friend of mine insists that humans are no good – selfish, proud, territorial, violent. They are. I am coming to believe it.
I have spent all my life fantasizing that humans are basically good. Not being Christian, I have never taken very seriously the concept of Original Sin. Grace is what flows through us when we open ourselves to our true natures. When my friend exclaims on the general depravity of human nature, I laugh, but secretly do the equivalent of crossing my fingers behind my back. I think, quickly, that if I don’t believe this, it will not be true. Like ghosts and other scary things which, if I close my eyes, get under the blanket, and very sternly NOT believe in them, will not exist. I whisper to myself, getting in touch with my true nature, that humans are actually good, but are sometimes misguided by their fears, their insecurities, their defenseless stance in a dog-eat-dog jungle. Then I can’t help arguing that goodness is not, after all, basic, it is in our very responses to these various jungles that it must lie, if it exists at all.
Coming of age does not happen at 13 or at 16, in white dresses, in front of a hundred people who congratulate you as they walk to the buffet line. A person comes of age when she begins to accept what it means to be human. I know this, but at 44, I am still fighting it. I do not want to accept that humans are basically self-serving, acting more from fear than from love. I do not want to accept that we are the most violent species that lives, more so because much of our violence stems from greed, not need. I do not want to believe that I cannot trust my fellow beings to act in my best interests if I open up to them. Most of all, I do not want my cynicism to permeate out to my own daughter or to the children I teach.
I teach my students to present evidence with their opinions, but now, I say, what’s the point, when everyone knows the list. Unnecessary wars, senseless serial murders, prisons that do not rehabilitate, insurance fraud, children shot in schools, identity thefts, rape, incest, why bother to go down the list? And when people say that the world is getting worse everyday, I do not believe them. These things have always happened, always we have been at the mercy of our baser instincts.
I have finally understood that my crossed-finger denial of human evil is wrong. I feel, rather, a more appropriate, deep, deep sadness, so rich, so black, so consuming, that I am surprised that I can breathe or eat. Perhaps I could write another essay as an addendum to this one. It will state that I believe that we should not be given anti-depressants for our sadness. We should, instead, celebrate that some of us still have it in us to grieve over what Man is doing to Man.
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