Do you remember when you were small and still thought everyone was good, or least trying to be good? I mean, after all, you were trying very hard to be good and not get into any trouble. Then you realized that not only are people occasionally “not good”, but sometimes they’re even trying to be bad! Worst of all, you might find a time when your parents were, well, not so “good”. A Childhood Lost?
It’s so very black and white at a young age though- you take a toy that’s not yours and you’ve stolen. You tell your mom something that isn’t true and you’ve lied. But we all move on, grow up, and see more. We learn to see the world for what it is- car thieves, house burglars, identity stealers, and tax evaders. And somewhere along the way, the lines become blurred.
Take, for example, the credit card thief, who used a stolen card to buy groceries for her starving family. Suddenly, we are faced with the epic question of “what is right?” or “what is wrong?” Was she right to want to nourish her children? Of course. Was she wrong to do at the hands of clearing a worker’s hard-earned bank account? Absolutely. As adults, we all know what is legal or illegal to do. But that doesn’t answer the real question- is mankind inherently good? Ah yes, that old battle: the battle of good versus evil. Indeed, classic movies like A Miracle on 34th Street and Star Wars are made of the fights between good guys and bad guys and the internal struggles between right and wrong. Still, the answer to this question seems so complicated that it may never be explained.
Well, I beg to differ. With so much violence and grief in the world it is hard to imagine that people are born good, and I certainly don’t think that’s the case. The fate of being good is more of a blank slate and you’re the one who chooses what to write on it. The mother who took the credit card can’t say that society has forced her to steal. She decided to steal, when there are many community resources available to underprivileged families. Sometimes we confuse what is easy to do with what is right and justify our actions with adversity. Could she easily have received free or discounted food from a public program? Probably, and unfortunately, not. It still doesn’t make the theft okay.
We’re all faced with these types of issues in different ways in life. And how do we choose, with so many different factors to reason with? Well, I’m not going to tackle that one, but I will tell you what I’ve seen. I belong to public speaking organization and as you can imagine, most people join to get rid of their nervousness. Members are encouraged to speak from their heart and not worry so much about how they say things. The results are phenomenal. People will fumble and stumble their words but are extremely cautious to avoid upsetting others. One night, in a meeting, I thought, “If this happens here, it happens everywhere.” And sure enough, that’s true. Why are affirmative action debates, immigration rights, and abortion law discussions so heated? It’s because we want things to be right. It’s because, even if we are not good, we want to be good. That’s what makes us the human race and not the homo sapien separatists. I believe we have banded together to face life. I believe in our search for universal happiness. And, as for the goodness of people, in this, I believe.
Anne Bet has been a crisis counselor in an “Alternative to Hospitalization” program for the Montgomery County mental health system and now works as a scientific researcher in Parasitology for the American Red Cross. She belongs to Toastmasters International and is the President of NIH Evening Speakers Club in Bethesda, Md.
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