[art by Isabel Castaño]
The other day I was watching Community. If you haven’t seen it, it is a pretty hilarious show about a diverse group of students that attend a Community College and all the shenanigans that follow their “study group”. In Episode 10 of Season One, two of the main characters are swept into the debate team and are forced to go head to head with a rival community college. The topic of the debate, was whether man (meaning all humans) is inherently good or evil. Of course it was comical and I enjoyed every minute of the episode. And [spoiler alert] in the end, the team who was in support of people being inherently evil won the debate.
Not even an hour after watching the episode, I was walking past a group of people and I heard one man talking about his son who has an obsession with good guys and bad guys. This dad mentioned the fact that son has developed this perspective that the world has these two types of people and this belief extends beyond son’s imaginary world. Dad shared a conversation he had with son after the little boy pointed out that someone in their community was a bad guy. Dad responded with, “there are no such things as bad people, people just make mistakes”. Dad just shook up son’s whole world.
I thought that was sweet. And such a nice way to attempt to encourage his son to develop this sense of forgiveness around the actions of other people. That is a nice perspective to hold as truth, though. That people are not inherently bad or evil. People often just do some really bad things that some might consider as purposeful, and others might consider a mistake. But then that makes you wonder about those who intentionally plan and plot upon others to inflict some type of harm, and I am not just referring to harm that is physical or violent.
What compels a person to plan a course of action to inflict harm? This brings me back to thinking that, for some people, all relationships are transactional. What can I get out of this interaction, this friendship, this connection to you? What can you do for me? What kills me is that these people are too opportunistic for their own good and they breed more people like them. Interns, mentees, little brothers and sisters develop the same behavior of learning to use other people for nothing other than personal gain all while disregarding the health, needs, or feelings of other people to the point where sons and daughters everywhere learn that there are good guys and bad guys. Cheaters. Liars. Thieves. I’m sure people you personally know are quickly coming to mind.
There are too many stories that support the idea that man is evil. One of my sisters shared a story with me about a woman from Gloversville, NY that was arrested for stealing over $13,900 from her own mother, whom she isolated and neglected to provide medical care. Now there are many things wrong with this scenario. The fact that this woman was neglectful and abusive to her mother and refused to allow family to check in with her. Wrong. The fact that the daughter hid the mother’s deceased and decomposing body for 14 months, which was only discovered because of a reported concern from her granddaughter. Wrong. The fact that during that entire time the daughter continued to cash her mother’s checks, including the check sent by her own brother to their mother for christmas. Wrong. We can’t say the daughter is guilty for the death of her mother because there is not enough details on the cause of death due to how decomposed the body was. Super sad. Ultra wrong. But the woman, who is the daughter of the deceased, is she evil? Or has she just done some bad things?
Or how about this story, which we have seen bits and pieces of in other news stories before. A man from Fresno, California at the age of 27 runs off with a 14 year old girl and marries her. He has numerous children with her and performs incestual acts with all of them while he preaches that this is the only way to live. Within this cult lifestyle he has created, 9 children are not only neglected, molested, abused, brainwashed and traumatized, they are ultimately all shot in the face in order to avoid the police. This man taught his children that it is better to commit suicide than to interact with the police, because they are bad people. The investigators were not completely sure whether he killed them all, or instructed and watched his oldest daughter kill them all before committing suicide herself. Nevertheless, every single thing about this story…is….wrong. Everything. But is this man evil? Or has he just made some insanely bad mistakes?
Or how bout this story. Hold your stomachs, people. A 34-year-old woman from Colorado put an advertisement on Craigslist to sell baby clothes. A 26-year-old pregnant woman responds to the ad and shows up to complete the transaction only to be beaten, stabbed and have her fetus removed from her stomach by the 34-year-old woman. Seriously, I don’t even know where to start. I’m no detective, but this sounds pre-meditated. And what leaves me speechless about this situation is after the older woman rips the child from the young woman’s stomach, she leaves the young woman bleeding in her home, gets her husband to drive her to the hospital, and tells the staff at the hospital that it is her baby and she just miscarried. Now this woman here – is she evil?
Despite these three extreme examples of people doing horrible things, I have to believe that there truly are good people in this world. That there are people that actually care about their neighbor whether they know them or not. That there are people who would give up their last crumb to feed someone else. That there are people who will work until their death so that those who come after them have better opportunities. That there are people who do things with out having an ulterior motive. But we don’t hear about those stories often enough. And naturally we create these dichotomies in our mind because there is no way in hell that one person could be both good and evil. I mean really.
But really… To me these three stories, although very different, display the same theme. No, I do not personally know the individuals depicted in the articles, however, I believe these people are victims of circumstance. My thought? You are born good. Innocent. Your environment and the situations that you are exposed to during your rearing, combined with your genetic dispositions (eg. mental illness), are what affect your outcomes. Its not nature vs nurture, its both people. I am not naive. I am well aware that these acts, these crimes or these mistakes that these people made, were made by choice. Still, what really informed that choice? What rationalization did these people, and others who commit harm, use to make them feel like their decisions were okay?
In no way shape or form am I attempting to justify the actions of these people. Really the question still remains: is man inherently good or evil? I don’t think its that simple. We can’t be afraid to see that there is a gray area between these two polar opposites. We also have to consider that people change overtime and are capable of truly anything. Even the most disgusting and hurtful things. In summary, its sounds like the answer is– man is both.
Talk to me. Hotep.