Often human nature is colored with greed, power, destruction. We think billionaire tech moguls represent the totality of the human spirit. We look to a few case studies of chaos and corruption and think, “yeah, that’s us. That’s humanity.” But greed, power, destruction, these are just a few darker aspects of human nature.
I’m in favor of the better half of human nature. The brighter half. I’m in favor of both, actually. I hold steadfast in my belief that studying darkness helps us prevent it. Too much of a focus on the positive leads to a shallow understanding of human behavior and motivation. (That’s why I don’t like positive psychology. Why can’t the pendulum swing in the other direction? Where’s ‘negative psychology’?) An excessive tug toward either direction, dark or light, blindsides us to the capabilities of the other end. Thus, we become biased. “All people are evil.” “All people are good.” Neither of those statements are true. People contain multitudes. People contain potential to act out evil and good. People are…mysteries.
When it comes to the brighter side of human nature, one of my favorite aspects to talk about is improvement. I love improvement. Improvement is a beautiful thing. Improving your craft, your skills. Becoming more competent and capable by the day. I’ll say it twice: improvement is a beautiful thing.
But wait! Some pushback is necessary. If you’re spending 6 hours a day practicing and studying, then that means you’re not addressing inequities, poverty, injustice!
Yes, I’d say. Yes. You’re right. Only…
Ignoring the suffering of the world so that you can deepen your understanding and execution of physics, programming, biology, medicine, public speaking, writing, anything…this is not a selfish act. This does not mean you don’t care about the suffering of the world. Improvement is a selfless act. The better you are at something, the better you are for your community. Are you not studying and practicing so you can share your expertise with the community, and thus improve the community itself? Isn’t the world a better place with better practitioners? Now, does this mean that somebody who hasn’t trained in a particular skill is useless to a community? No. Creating a society in which you’re defined only by one or a few aspects: that’s the real danger. Motivating yourself and other people to see our surfaces and not our depths: that’s the real danger.
Before I wrap this up, I need to say it again: people contain multitudes. You are not defined merely by how good you are at medicine or law or what have you. Nor are you defined by skin color or sexual orientation. Any one thing can’t define you. 1 plus 0 does not equal 2. You are never only a writer, never only a mother, never only gay. The word “you” is one of the most mysterious in the world. We can’t define it. We can’t understand it. We don’t know what it means, and yet we use it because it helps us draw a clear distinction between person A and person B. But underneath that surface level usage lies a vast psychic cosmos of which we’ll never get to the bottom.