Recently, I heard someone say that they think people are basically good. I am not so sure, anymore. I believe it is more likely that people are basically selfish (me, included). Just take a moment to think about your thoughts and behaviors. When driving, do you practice generosity or are you more concerned with getting to your destination? How about grocery shopping? Do you look for the shortest line and make a beeline to it before anyone else can get there?
Okay, okay. I know. I am bringing up minor instances of selfish behavior. However, it does reveal that our underlying, well-hidden nature is more base than we are willing to acknowledge. Still, somewhere along the line, we were taught to be kind (some more than others). Remember being forced to share? Over time, the socialization process became ingrained and, if nothing else, we learned to be socially prudent and, maybe, even kind. Probably the majority of people fall into this category.
Can selfishness and goodness co-exist? Are they mutually exclusive? Is kindness equivalent to goodness?
Recently, my caretaker and I were on the highway. Suddenly, right in front of us, we witnessed a van careen into a semi-truck. With horror, we watched the truck skid, flip on its side, and, within seconds, burst into flames. Without time to think, people stopped their cars and ran to the injured. Because of these kind strangers, the truck driver was pulled out of his cab just before it was entirely engulfed in a raging fire. Yes, these people ran toward danger to help a stranger and displayed courage and compassion in a moment of no-time-to-consider. Am I disproving my point?
In contrast to the few that ran toward the injured, most people either drove off immediately or stood on the sidelines gawking.
So, we have the lovers and the others. There is a third group. They plan and conspire to maim and kill others. Are they truly evil, I wonder? Are they the modern mini-versions of Hitler and Idi Amin? The recent bombings in Beirut, Brussels, Pakistan, and Paris are evidence of hearts gone wrong. They are the haters of the world. Do they hate themselves, also? Is that why they can self-destruct?
Do we see ourselves in them? Do we hate? How much time do we spend with the word “I” rattling around in our minds? I want, I need, I have, I deserve, I . . . ad nauseam. At one point in history, the world changed from spending our days worrying about our next meal to spending our days worrying about ourselves.
Hate does not spring out from our hearts spontaneously. We feed hate a regular diet of jealousy, pride, greed, envy, and self-importance. As we focus on all the slights and offenses we have experienced, we fail to consider if we have done the same actions. Our training becomes undone, and we are left with childish thoughts. It is a poisonous diet. Eventually, we have no room for empathy or sympathy. Our passion has no compassion.
If we can learn anything from the haters, I hope we learn to let go of petty grievances and forgive others. There are plenty of reasons to harbor ill feelings. You might even hope that your perceived enemy comes to harm. Albeit they might deserve karma justice, loving them will add an intangible healing to the world and to you, as well.
The next time you hear about another act of terrorism, ask yourself, “Whom do I hate?”
“Love has bliss in it, hatred has despair, bitterness, grief, affliction, wickedness, agitation, confusion, darkness, and all the other interior conditions which compose hell.”
– St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022AD)