Are We Good?

In Archives, Uncategorized on January 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm

It’s interesting to think that people could be in grad school together, studying extremely complex and specific topics, and yet have very different views of the basic nature of life. In particular, I sometimes wonder whether or not fellow students believe that all people are intrinsically “good,” and what a person who is not “good” is instead.

My own understanding is that everyone is fundamentally sympathetic. Just by being alive, we are in an immensely challenging situation, with pain, unwelcome change, and death being pervasive facts of life. And yet we all seek the best, for ourselves at least, and generally also for the people closest to us. Even if we go hugely wrong, we are sympathetic—good—in our efforts to navigate a difficult life and attain what we think might bring us happiness.

I think your opinion on this question has potentially big implications for your work. For example, would you want to throw yourself into a development project for people who aren’t “good”—say, because their society encourages pervasive corruption and human rights abuses? Or, would you be able to fight a war with the opposite understanding? I’m glad to have my perspective on the intrinsic goodness of people: it’s helped me a lot, particularly in challenging situations. But I’d be very interested to learn what else is out there.

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