I attended an ethical workshop recently and the presenter stated she thought that most people are good. This worldview allowed her to approach people she met in a warm and open fashion which made for a rewarding and pleasant work experience. Benefits aside of such a worldview, is she right? Are most people good?
I never asked her, but I am sure the presenter thought that all of the evil acts of the world are committed by a small number of bad or misunderstood people. She saw people themselves being valued as good or bad. For her, the world is made up mostly of good people whose lives get ruined by a small number of bad people. The value is placed on the person, not on the behavior.
My experience tells me otherwise. Instead of seeing human nature being inherently good or bad, I would instead that it being imbued with potential for both. Across time and place people have struggled to avoid suffering and find happiness in life.? It is the limitless ways of finding happiness that makes human nature appear so complex. Yet this complexity does not mean that we have to leave our ability to judge at the door. The value judgment of whether a particular pursuit of happiness is good or bad can be judged by the actions undertaken. The continuum between good and bad would be based around how one pursues happiness. “Good” behavior would be demonstrated when one enjoys putting the needs of others before their own needs and/or taking happiness in another’s happiness, while “Bad” behavior would see a person putting their own needs before others or having to harm/kill others to be happy.
By becoming aware of the distinction between these different kinds of happiness we can stop labeling the person or our human nature as inherently bad or good. We will find that there is no original sin or inherent angelic quality in us, just dynamic potentialities. We can then judge the actions and not the person. Awareness of this subtle but critical distinction will lead us to a healthier place as captured by Ropbert Pop in his quote: “Awareness is the first step towards healing”.
With awareness we can leave the fairy-tale worldview that human nature is inherently good and toward a more complete view of ourselves.