In the wake of the US Presidential election, our country has been in a state of turmoil (to put it mildly). This turmoil has come with a strong dose of hatred; hatred for Republicans, for Democrats, for people of all classes and races from all over the country. This is perhaps the most divided that the United States has been since the outbreak of the Civil War.
Most of the mainstream political jargon circulating in American public life revolves around the “bad guy.” Whether the “bad guy” is a white supremacist from middle America or a college student silencing their peers for the sake of political correctness, everyone has at least one demon in their back pocket to criticize for the current state of US affairs.
For a long list of reasons, I don’t want to discuss the politics behind our election and country here. The root problem today- which I believe is true of the entire globe- is the sense of good vs. evil within the human race. We no longer operate on a national belief that all people are both sinful and the children of God, as Christianity once inculcated in mainstream America. I am not advocating bringing Christianity back into national focus (religion and politics mix terribly today), but that seedling of an idea- sinful children of God- has a truth to it that needs to be brought back into our cultural consciousness.
I do not believe in good people and bad people. I simply don’t. (I would prefer not to get into the psychology of psychopaths or Hitler, so for now, I am putting stark outliers aside). Every person comes into this world blank, devoid of evil. We all know this; you need only look into the face of a baby to realize that evil is not an inborn character trait.
So where does evil come from? How does the “bad person” turn “bad”? How does someone become racist, sexist, homophobic, or cruel to animals? Why don’t they realize that they’ve become “bad”?
Every child is born into a family, with some sort of parent or guardian that instructs them in the basic matters of life. Because children identify so closely with their parents, they will naturally absorb some, if not all, of the belief structures that their parents have, even if only in a subliminal manner. If a child grows up in a racist household, that child will retain some of that racism like a mental film coating their racial worldview. Is that child really bad? No; he is merely the product of his environment, and he was raised to believe, for reasons I cannot purport to know, that the various races are not equal.
This is difficult to stomach, morally, so here is a more subtle example: I was raised to believe that a human life is more valuable than an animal life, because of our relative capacities for consciousness. If I had to choose between taking the life of a dog or a human being, I would pick the human being every time (once again, I am speaking in generalities- Hitler and psychopathic murderers are excluded). I think most of us were raised this way, and it seems like such basic human knowledge. No matter how much you love your pet dog, you will pick your child’s life over your dog’s life. End of the question.
This view, while sensical, is still subjective. There is no preordained law from the Universe stating that a human life is more valuable than an animal life. Why should we prize our own souls over those of our living counterparts? For that matter, why do we experience so little guilt when we kill a tree compared to a cow? Trees are alive, they can communicate with each other, and they have the capacity to feel pain. Why don’t we value trees as much as people? Because we were not raised to think that way.
We are born to inherit our parents’ and community’s belief structures, and our parents were born to inherit their parents’ belief structures, and so on. It is not the mother’s fault any more than it is her own mother’s fault, and all the way back to the beginning of human morality. People are not bad, they are mistaken. They see in a certain way, and it is very hard to see the world through a different lens once your own lens has been cemented by the passage of time.
Of course, it is possible to break through their inherited perspectives. When people separate from their families, to go to work or to college, they interact with new perspectives on the world. Whether or not a person adapts their worldview to reflect a greater respect and love for all humanity and life on Earth depends primarily on the following question:
Does the person of a different perspective show them hate or love? Hostility or empathy?
People do not bend to hate and to hostility. You cannot destroy someone’s “badness” with hatred. If you treat someone as if they are categorically, inherently “bad,” how can you expect them to adapt and change to be good?
If we want to come together in a kinder, more tolerant union- and I believe that we all do- we must consider the means by which we achieve our ends. Too many of us love to hate, to condemn the “bad” people of the world, blindly sacrificing the opportunity to come together. Instead, we turn out opposition on the defensive, and enter into the moral gridlock and disgust that so characterizes our current era.
So please, when you are angry and want to lament the “bad people” in the world, remember: everyone is given a secondhand perspective when they come into this world, and the only way to change a person’s perspective is to offer them empathy and love and instruction. Teaching a child with a whip only inspires fear, and teaching an adult with hate only inspires paranoia and anger.
We all have something to learn from one another. Let’s not waste that opportunity by shutting down before we have a chance to converse and share.