I had an interesting conversation at work yesterday. On our twice-daily walks, my friend and I discussed whether or not most people are terrible people and how inherent that is. A bit of a deeper conversation than we normally have, but even more interesting for the novelty. It all started with us noting all the gum stuck to the sidewalk and how ridiculous it is that people do things like that. Trashcans are not hard to find and most people have receipts and the like after all. We talked about how inconsiderate people can be and our different takes on why: that people are monsters or that people have too much stuff to worry about.
I am not going to try to lay out her argument. It is not mine and I am not sure I can fully understand it, but I think I have a decent handle on mine. I want to argue that people are all innately good, but I cannot bring myself to that. I do no think people are inherently bad though. People do bad or terrible things because they can be selfish and have trouble connecting to other people.
Combine this with the idea that people can only be passionate about so many causes. A person can be all about eating organic vegan and minimizing their carbon foot print but be lax when it comes to the chemicals in their make-up. There are just too many things for people to worry about and keep track of. It does not even need to be the big things. Somebody cuts you off or says something rude, they likely are not doing it to be mean. They have their reason. It is not fair, sure, but it does not make them evil.
Why does it matter though? What does thinking about this change? Well, a lot of stuff. It can change how you view the world and how you react to it. Take the all too frequent example of when someone cuts you off on the highway. I know all too often I end up raging or angry, but when I pause and thing about it. Did the person just make a mistake (a stupid and dangerous one, sure)? Are they in a rush? What made them act that way? Asking myself these questions calms me down and lets me assume they had some reason beyond being a jerkwad.
The benefits go beyond being happy, though. Although, who really needs a better reason for anything? I just end up treating people better. I know how people’s negative actions affect me and how their positive ones do. This outlook makes it so that my first instinct is to be kind and helpful. And you know what I get back? More of the same.
In the end, perhaps it is not that people are good or bad. Perhaps it is just that we are mirrors. Our attitudes reflect what is around us and it is important to remember that what you give out will be reflected.