The Dark Side of Human Nature

PHOTO: Nathan Weaver holding plastic turtle
Jeffrey Collins/AP Photo

Having been a turtle lover all my life and a turtle biologist for a portion of it, I’ve been waiting for someone to do this study. Thank you Nathan Weaver! I will never forget getting the phone call from my heart-broken brother telling me how he risked life and limb to rescue a snapping turtle on the highway just to have someone swerve to purposefully hit it before he could get to it. Humanity never ceases to amaze, impress, and also disappoint me all at the same time.

It’s been a very difficult holiday season for the world and close to home. Several of my friends have lost loved ones. Many, including myself, have caught some unbelievably suped-up cold virus which has left us akin to vegetables. Even on Christmas morning people were killed and homes were destroyed by tornadoes in the south. Perhaps the worst tragedy of them all is witnessing the pain we inflict on others. The dark side of human nature, which lives inside us all, has finally been fully revealed. It was only a matter of time. Horrible things aren’t just happening in a far off countries anymore. We can’t justify these things by passing it off as the cultural, religious or political beliefs, views, or practices of other nations. This chaos is at our doorstep now. We can no longer say such things are a fluke like we did with Columbine. Columbine was not a one-time occurrence. People are absolutely losing their minds: shooting strangers at malls; mass murdering children and teachers; creating elaborate schemes to trap and kill firefighters; and today a woman pushed a person onto the subway tracks. This was just one month in one country. Considering what happens worldwide would be too painful and overwhelming and we would all be rallying to nuke the human race.

We are so good at blaming all of these awful occurrences on anything other than our inner nature. We say that guns are to blame. Media sensationalism. Mental illness. Television violence. Bullying. Bad parenting. Well I believe it’s all of the above but those are just the easy patsies. I encourage you to read the story about the turtle project. If you can’t, the main point is that people purposefully go out of their way to kill helpless animals on the road. Why? Because it’s what we do to make ourselves feel good. Maybe it makes us feel in control. Maybe it makes us feel like Gods. Humans have an uncomfortably dark side. We deny this. We ignore this. We are ashamed of this. But we are this. It’s human nature–one that can be witnessed easily in children. Kids are our most basic, animal form before we learn of God, morality and social mores. They are terribly compassionate and at the same time ruthless. This isn’t all a bad thing, there’s a innate utility to having a dark side. We would not have been able to hunt and kill other animals to ensure the survival of our own species without it. Compassion and altruism can only get us so far. We are both the yin and the yang.

The innate nature of humanity’s dark side is the one thing that can’t be addressed through government regulation. It’s an intractable conflict that we would rather ignore than deal with. As time moves forward, our world and ourselves continue to become increasingly out of balance. If we continue with this trajectory things will only get worse. Some will pour themselves into charity work and volunteerism–and for many more the scales will tip the other way. But there are ways to address it. Giving in to darkness at the expense of other beings is the mark of the unenlightened. Once we get over our God complex of trying to control everything and inflicting our will on anything, the darkness dims. It’s still there–it’s who we are–but it’s a part of a balanced whole. To change the path we’re on, I don’t think denial is the answer. Targeted blame is not the answer either–it’s not just one issue, like gun control, that makes tragedies happen (however, stricter regulations may help). Accepting our inner nature and seeking balance in ourselves, others, and the world around us is the answer.

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