Good or Bad? Exploring Human Nature

Every now and then I get into a peculiar mood, which although chaotic at times, gives birth to a lot of self expression. The chaos seems to be born out of a desire to understand myself more, as well as the world which surrounds me. I tend to become more introspective, and carefully navigate the turbulent waters inside instead of shutting them out; for I’ve learned whenever I do this, I end up understanding myself better. These moods can be quite illuminating, despite the fact I feel as if I were within a boxing ring, being thrown from one end of the corner to another. At times I may not like what these chaotic waters have to show me, but I also feel inebriated by a feeling of ecstasy or rawness, where all the lies we tell to ourselves disappear, leaving only brutal honesty; hard to look at yet enticing to anyone who wants to embrace the shadow.

Often during these times, I tend to look at the world with more intensity and question my life and my essence. It takes introspection to understand self and help remove each false layer. A question which has fascinated me for as long as I can remember and which becomes my focus during these times is, are we inherently good or bad?

"The fact is that we have no way of knowing if the person we think we are is at the core of our being.  Are you a decent girl with the potential to someday become an evil monster, or are you an evil monster that thinks it's a decent girl?...the lies we tell other people are nothing to the lies we tell ourselves"
Derek Landy

Landy's quote may seem brutal but anyone who has worked with others or even takes the time to truly look at his or her own life without pretenses, can understand his point.  

"Am I a good person trying to be bad? or am I a bad person trying to be good?" After all, I feel pain, anger, fear, desire, and many of the so called "negative" emotions. This existential question is one I kept pondering on.  I hoped if I talk a bit about it with someone else I would better understand my own pattern of thinking, yet it took an event which may feel completely disconnected from the subject at hand that led me to my present answer.  But, before I tell you about it, let's explore more about good and bad.

The question of whether we are good or bad is without a doubt one of the oldest questions within philosophy; whether the human being is born good and then becomes bad or whether something evil is born with us.  There are different positions which are somewhat opposed; however, before anything, we should ask ourselves what is human nature? Does anyone actually understand what it is? We have lots of "theories" but in reality we know very little about it, if nothing at all.  

Scientifically speaking, in order to know what true human nature is, we would have to meet a human being in a primate state of nature, a pre-civilized being--that is not possible.  Within formulated hypotheses about what this wild or uncivilized human being would look like, there are two opposite positions.  In order to better explain these polar opposite positions, I will use as example Hobbes vs. Rousseau.

Hobbes--English XVII century--affirmed  "man is a wolf to man" and in that pre-civilized state what would prevail is the war of all against all. Why? Because "human beings are aggressive and selfish: if I want an apple and you have it, I am going to take it from you. There is no law, nor are there limits that prevent it, so if I have to kill you for the apple, I'll kill you".  

For Hobbes, a human being is bad by nature, in order to coexist absolute power is needed, an authoritarian law that controls the aggressive impulse that arises from "selfish" motivation.  

On the other hand, Rousseau--Swiss-French, 18th century-- precursor of the pre-romantic movement, argues such state of nature (pre-civilization) would have been populated by "savages" who were "good" and "empathetic".  According to him, if one of those savages saw another suffering, they would feel a natural inclination to assist.  Furthermore, he believed what makes a human being bad and awakens his aggressiveness,  is "possession".  "This is mine", because of that someone else may say, "but I want it too" and that's how competition, envy and aggressiveness would take place.  

I don't know about you, but both hypotheses hold much validity yet in reality answer nothing.  I mean, are those the only ways to "qualify" people?...either one extreme or the other? Aren't we a bit more complex than that? And aren't our own perceptions skewed by our own life experiences? I mean, I could conclude Hobbs' life wasn't optimal and he faced people who were callous and mean, perhaps he was too.  I could also conclude Rousseau's life was less challenging and maybe even sheltered.  Perhaps he never had deep desires arise within him or if he did he denied them rather than face them; that is hardly a compass for categorizing human nature as a whole.  After all, if you only know one state of being or try to remain within one box, how could you possibly comprehend anything outside of it?  Let us not forget, in many ways we are cowards when it comes to confronting ourselves.  As such we like to label ourselves as good, then we ran in the opposite direction before our shadow rises up to show us the fallacies within our own thinking.  So what to do?  In my opinion neither Hobbes nor Rosseau were helping solve the "dilemma".  

A more consensual or balanced response was provided by Freud and Fromm; which say human nature contains the power or faculty of both being good and bad. Now we are getting somewhere where choice and free will can take place; if there is such a thing as free will; but for the sake of argument and to align ourselves with Nietzsche's "Super Man philosophy", we shall continue under the assumption free will exists.   

Erich Fromm argues there is no "natural condition".   According to him, there is an existential human conflict: on the one hand, we are animals with instincts, but unlike them, our instincts are not sufficient for survival. In a way, we are the most vulnerable animals. That is why we organize ourselves in communities that give us protection, security.  In order to survive we make use of our rational aspect and our spiritual aspect "Consciousness" ( an animal isn't conscious).  Fromm made it clear, "Consciousness"  isn't the same as a false sense of morality; instead, it is a state of awareness from where we CAN question who we are, why we are here and more importantly; although we are aware time isn't linear;  we live based on past, present and future.  This "Consciousness" and the ability to use rationale, are the only things that take us from a sense of "vulnerability" to  a sense of "control"....Interesting, but isn't control an illusion?  So, we live perpetually within an illusion in order not to go "crazy" facing the final brutality of our 3D existence?--these are just questions I ask myself. 

Freud recognizes both drives as constitutive, which means I need both. By now, some of you are probably asking yourselves if Freud was being serious, after all why would we need to feel anger or to destroy things or self?--but was he crazy? I dare say not, I think he danced with madness like most great minds have; for only in understanding madness and chaos can we understand the duality in which we live.  So why destroy?... to build again!

Constructive destruction is needed in social, even individual terms. An artist destroys a prejudice when he creates his work.  A free spirit challenges the status quo of mundane rules which limit our capacity to expand, every time he or she chooses creation over dogma or false acceptance.  A new theory destroys another when it points out its fallacies.  Every time we rebuild ourselves, we are destroying "putting to death" the old self.  Without getting so abstract, when we eat we are destroying, when we shower we are shedding off old cells so new ones may replace them.  In other words, a certain level of "violence" (destruction of something) is a constitutive part of human nature, fundamental to defend ourselves and to continue living--but a violent cycle is not the same as an "evil" action--so are we good or bad?...

Perhaps the best person to have provided us with a balanced answer was Carl Jung.  His answer to the above question, wasn't just theoretical but came through years and years of brutal study; not just of his patients but of himself.  He would agree with Freud, we have the capacity for both.  

Carl Jung was a great analyst and philosopher because he dared succumb to the abyss of his mind and gentle desires, emerging ever wiser and more complete than before.  He wasn't perfect and I am sure to some he was the source of pain; but in this life we all have been an angel to some and a devil to others.  Despite this we cannot say most of us are inherently bad.  After all, "monsters" (people who commit despicable acts) tend to indirectly help us put things in perspective.  

I know part of the reason this existential question keeps rising up, is because I am yet to set peace with an event which took place many years ago.  As some of you know, I grew up being abused repetitively for years by various people.  I gained a sense of control when "I" chose to stop crying and begging and started "seducing" my own abusers whenever they would come; less violence inflicted on me was the result.  However, one afternoon, something inside of me clicked.  Long story short, I had one of those abusers at gunpoint (his own gun).  I have never been able to get that image of my head... I can still see him as clearly as if at this moment I were to be standing next to him; more importantly, what stayed with me the most, was the feelings I experienced at that moment.  I wanted to do it, I wanted to end him right there, but I also wanted him to suffer, to beg, to scream, to feel what he had imposed for years.  I have come to the conclusion that memory remains for one specific reason; to keep me in check (at least that is my conclusion for now).  All abuse from him and his buddies stopped shortly after; I went from the quiet, submissive person to an angry rebel.   It took years to understand most of my anger was directed at myself, I kept telling myself I had been a coward because I did not have the courage to hurt him, to stop him from ever hurting another person.  It took many years to "understand" I was not a coward, I was being strong.   It took years to accept, the "sofia" who held that gun, would have enjoyed every minute of pain inflicted.  That person, would have had no qualms afterwards; the feeling was intoxicating.  So why was I strong? CHOICE.  Something in me helped me understand there would be no coming back from that; I beaten that feeling of "high" for my own sake-- I chose my spirit over revenge.  Sometimes I question my choice and I still haven't assimilated all there is to it, sometimes I get chills remembering just how "good" that moment felt.  I don't believe in always turning the other cheek and I don't believe in boxes that limit us; I do believe in choice.  I have seen both sides of life; what to some may seem like a movie, to countless others it has been or still is their life.  

Are we good or bad?... 

At the beginning of this article I said to you how it took one incident to help satiate (at least for now) the thirst I have experienced over this existential question "good or bad".

Last night my dog fell to the ground.  It may sound stupid, but I always take in or adopt animals most people don't want.  My dog is only 2 years old, beautiful but he has a condition and he won't live long. However, I didn't expect him to collapse the way he did for another couple of years. Last night as one of my daughters cried in desperation at seeing him like that, I rushed to him and could see him relax...TRUST, that I was going to help him.   I stayed with him, gave him his meds.  When he was more comfortable, I made sure my two other pets were well and started to make mental notes (take him to his vet first thing in the morning, write down all the things I can do to make him more comfortable) as I was doing that I could feel tears flowing.  I know to many people, I am just being overly sensitive for he is just a dog.  To me anything or anyone I allow within my circle is "family"; that is why I keep my circle small.  Seeing my dog Bruno like that, becoming aware I was crying over what was happening, brought back a lot of other "good" memories, "good" actions if you will, towards others and towards myself.  

So, am I a bad person trying to be good? No.  My essence IS good even though I am imperfect.  I make mistakes and I live my life differently than most; part of it is my personality and part of it is the natural result of a very messed up history.   My gentle sins as I called them (for I refuse to have people punish me for not fitting the box of how or what a "good" person should be) are not born out of false ego, they come from deep within.  I seek to understand, to feel; adding shades to my life; however this additions are born from a desire to give and receive--love & fairness--are my motivation; in the process, I allow myself to feel all those "negative" emotions, which to me are beautiful teachers. 

Am I good or bad? I believe this existential question will continue to come back for it has much to show me still.  I like to say I am the sinner and the illusions.  There was a time I lived trying to negate self; I rather not fall for that again.   I am the gentle sinner who tries to help, the one who tries until I have tried it all, who will be there as much as I can if you need me; however, I am also the one who will put you in your place and will not be afraid to "knock" you into place, if I feel that is what it takes to get you to back off and respect my boundaries. 

Live your life whichever way you like, so long as your MOTIVATION is born from a loving place vs. a place of pain.  

Are we good or bad?  We have decide!

"A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control"
Jordan Peterson 

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By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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