Are you someone who generally likes other people? Are you hopeful about the future of the human race? Or are you cynical? Do you see the darker side of people? According to one person who studies such things, (see, for example, D.E. Brown, and his book, Human Universals) there are good reasons for either position. Those things that are seen in every culture (though not in every individual) are considered to be part of our core human nature. Here are some of the things I like best about the human race that can be found in every known society; past or present.
12 Reasons I Like People
- We give each other gifts. Unlike my puppy and her littermate who do their best to possess every stick & stone in the yard, young children often offer their most prized possession even to newly met strangers. So sweet!
- We attempt to heal the sick. Whether our methods are based on folklore or modern medicine, every society has specialists in the art of healing. There is something beautiful about the desire to relieve suffering and restore health to others.
- We admire generosity and disapprove of stinginess. The older I get the more I think that being generous may be the key to life.
- We take turns and cooperate. So much of the orderly running of society depends on this simple interaction. Think what chaos would ensue if we all rushed and pushed to get to the goal. On the flipside, it’s sad we are losing our civility.
- We have special occasions, (usually with speeches which can be either good or bad depending upon the speaker’s ability to entertain :).
- Individuals are considered responsible for their actions. ‘Nuff said, Osama.
- We dance, sing, tell stories and write poetry. (Even when we have no talent!)
- We pretend. Imagination is not only the basis of playfulness, its also essential for solving complex problems.
- Affection for others is felt and is expressed. Can there be too much of this?
- We distinguish between right and wrong; good and bad.
- We feel empathy. While we are born with the capacity for empathy, it also is one of the ways we grow with our own suffering.
- We share food and are hospitable, even with our adversaries!
And 12 Reasons I Don’t!
As you can well imagine, there are also universals in human behavior that are deeply disturbing. These continue to be the cause of suffering and misery across human societies. Despite centuries of education and socialization we seem to be unable to eliminate these characteristics from our humanity.
- Every culture has some form of proscribed violence including murder.
- We seek revenge or retaliation.
- We make weapons.
- Rape occurs in every human society.
- We overestimate the objectivity of our thought.
- Crying is universal among humans.
- There is discrepancy between what we say, what we think, and how we act.
- Domination and submission are recognizable roles.
- There are economic inequalities.
- We envy what others have.
- We have in-groups that are preferred to out-groups.
- Language is used to manipulate others.
What do you like and/or despair about the human race?
Any approach to understanding and working with people that neglects either our capacities for good or our capacities for evil are bound to fail. We’ll discuss this more fully in later posts.
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