Our basic nature
“It is one of my fundamental beliefs that not only do we inherently posses the potential for compassion but I believe that the basic or underlying nature of human beings is gentleness. —[Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama]
For most of my life, I have held that man is essentially a base, angry, hurtful animal. Gentleness and kindness are acquired through civilization and practice, and if given a chance every person would do the thing that benefits them the most, even if it hurts others.
The online conversation in India has recently become rape-focused. Triggered by the Delhi gang rape, what was a tsunami of outrage is now a stream that is here to stay. Almost universal in the portrayal of rapists is the use of terminology that indicates that men who rape are reverting to their “real” nature. Forget what this says about men, what does it say about humans in general?
Yet, we do not have difficulty in believing this. This drives us to propose the harshest possible penalties on rapists, and insist that the basis for a rape-free society would be harsher punishments, and longer sentences. I’m even hearing suggestions that minors who commit sexual crimes should be treated as adults.
I would have discarded the Dalai Lama’s belief as religious wishful thinking if not for the evidence he presented. He asks why, if we are evil, does evil hurt?
If we are by nature evil, why does it hurt us so much? Why does good have physical as well as psychological benefits?
Not all “good” behavior has proven benefits, other than feeling good. But many do, and from violence to resentment, there is research to suggest that negative emotions and “bad” behavior can lead to physical effects.
It’s a good question, isn’t it?
Note: I’ve been re-reading “The art of happiness” a book that looks at Buddhist teachings about happiness in life from the point of view of a modern psychiatrist. The author, Howard Cutler is a psychiatrist who follows His Holiness the Dalai Lama around for years, and catalogs the dialogues he had on topics ranging from romantic love to the nature of suffering. The book is very well written, easy to read and for any dysthymic/depressed person, a must-have. The quote above is from the book.