Nature - Good? Or Bad?
is not a discipline
imposed from the outside. Although it has a code, even that is viewed
notas a set of commandments or laws, but as an expression of and
commitment to, certain values.
Chivalry-Now is an internal phenomenon,
a response to an internal calling, self-developing and self-defining
at the same timea drive for completion. One responds to the
inner call of chivalry to find the personal fulfillment that comes
in right action, in contributing to the whole with beneficial purpose.
The true Knight responds to his own inner purpose not just for himself,
but for the world.
Anyone who has experienced this inner calling
understands what I mean. Many others who least acknowledge their
own discontent, anger and accompanying guilt will at least nod in
There is another strain of thought that runs
contrary to this, and competes psychologically even to this day.
Instead of viewing human nature as good and naturally
yearning for virtue, the alternative sees it as badsomething
that needs to be coerced into submission by outside forces from
the onset. Instead of appealing to and encouraging instincts that
are noble and discerningly autonomous, in the best sense of the
word, it imposes a script for behavioral modification consisting
of reward and punishment, continual moral regulation, and a distrust
of human nature. This is a model of authoritarianism.
Both views, when applied properly, can produce
well-behaved people. Their reasons or motivations for being good
are quite dissimilar, creating very different visions of the world.
Each has its own defenders.
We are called to judge them in order to understand
the motivations that drive chivalry.
Which of the two stands for the makings of freedom?
For self-discipline? For judging others according
to their potential, rather than their outward success or failure?
Which contributes to a more authentic character? Which is less apt
to promote jealousy or envy, or violence? Which is more apt to forgive?
For which is a display of courtesy more naturally genuine? For the
one seeking reward or avoiding punishment? Or the one who follows
his own activated conscience?
Which person is more trusting and trust-worthy?
Which makes the better child or parent? The more substantial patriot?
Which has the self-confidence to think for himself, which is a perquisite
for being free?
For goodness to be real, and not a prefabricated
imitation, it has to emanate from inside. It is not mere action.
It is being, or becoming. It is an innocence
that reward and punishment cannot produce. Coerced behavior
cannot reflect authenticity.
Philanthropy, the love of humanity, is based
on valuing what is best in human nature, even when that potential
is unrealized. Authoritarianism, no matter how outwardly benign,
is a mindset that leads to oppression, exploitation and ultimately
war. We have seen the terrible consequences of such regimes as Nazism,
fascism, and communism. Religious fanaticism also leads to authoritarianismconveniently
discarding such dictates as "the truth shall set you free."
It has led to killing as well, and religious wars, terrorism, and
denial of human rights.
The need to control people lies at the heart
of this. When human nature is considered bad, it must be controlled.
While substantial gain may be acquired by this, a host of problems
accompany it as well. Poor self-esteem. Repressed resentment. Identification
with evil.Never good enough, Being in someone else's control subverts
a sense of natural autonomy and encourages the desire to control
or even hurt other people, ever widening the problem. Either way,
monsters are being created in our midst, filling our jails, but
only after they do their damage.
One mistaken response to this is to so the exact
opposite. Give the child free rein during the formative years. Protect,
but don't deny. Adopt the role of friend rather than parent. This
response arises because we are trained to think two-dimensionally,
in childish extremesthe expressway to folly.
Children are born as helpless packages of potential.
Tendencies toward virtue and conscience are either nurtured or they
are not. Authoritarian controls make them mimic virtue. Laissez-faire
parenting casts them to the fates, which are often unkind.
Consumerism, which is now rampant in every aspect of our lives,
is like a circle of hungry wolves, waiting to devour the independent
thoughts of any potential consumer. Indeed, today's marketing is
a pervasive, conveyor belt machine dedicated to brainwashing human
beings into docile, domesticated shoppers, jumping for every new
When I see a young child, I see an insipient
reserve of conscience trying to find itself in the reflection of
others. It needs to be respected, nurtured and encouraged
to grow and be independent. It should neither be beaten or cajoled
into submission, nor set free among the wolves before it can ward
them off. Here we find the mystery of life and thought and conscience
preparing itself to confront the world with meaning and purpose.
It needs protection from the wolves, but it also needs the kind
of guidance that gently leads to authenticity. While this is the
primary responsibility of the parent, it is up to society
to provide a humane environment of limited protection that is conducive
to growth. It is up to culture to transmit guidance based
on wisdom and archetypal heroes from the past, as well as the latest
fact-based knowledge of the present.
We start with our own lives, and then move into
the realm of culture. Fixing society first simply cannot work. Society
is a mere structure, a reflection of culture and those who live
People problems can only be solved by people,
and that means culture as well.
There will always be those who believe human
nature is bad.
What saddens me is that they base their opinions
on what they find directly in themselves. And for that, our culture
has failed us.