Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Truth

      Humans are argumentative primates.  Oh, sure, like our distant cousins the bonobos, we just love a good make-out session -- but when you come right down to it, we are more quarrelsome than our other distant cousins, good old Pan troglodytes, the common chimpanzee.  There's nothing we enjoy better than a good fight, preferably preceded by lots of name-calling.

      Dig back as far as you like in the written (or painted on walls, chiseled into stone or pressed into soft clay) record and it will be there; follow legend and myth and you will hear it: someone inveighing against the lousy character and worse actions of their neighbor, rules for settling dire disputes, even curses; move up a level and you'll find mottoes and stories of the horrible awfulness of those people over the next hill, or across the river, or in the next kingdom, how they lack virtue, eat the wrong things, smell funny and look bad.  Oh, how we loathe!  How we have always loathed!

      To be President of the United States is to have, on average, about half of the people in the country disliking you, no matter who you are, which party's banner you ran under or even how good you are at the job.  Plenty of people were ticked off at George Washington when he was President and it's gone downhill from there (arguably, so have Presidents; but even one Cincinnatus is a miracle).

      We argue with our neighbors; we look askance at people who are different from ourselves -- but we're equally willing to feud with a sibling.

      The truth is, we're not very nice.  We have to work at it.  Most of civilization can be thought of as efforts to finds ways to get people work together without too much fighting -- and historically, one of the most effective ways to do that is to find some other group your group can all fight with, or at least despise.

      So it when seems that people are just too awful, that Those Others are trying to keep you and yours down because they plain don't like you?  Yeah, well, welcome to the club, just like everybody.  The wonder and miracle is that we are able to get along with one another as well as we do.

      Human beings stand at the tipping point.  All of the time.  Every day, we can make things a little better or a little worse.  Every dawn, every corner we turn, is another opportunity, another set of choices.  You can be a miserable SOB or you can try to get along.  Neither choice is right all the time; but the best outcome is when everyone involved tries to treat one another decently.

      We don't always manage to.  Sometimes we can't.  Look for those times when you can. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yup. A long time ago, when the troubles in Northern Ireland were everyday news, I remember thinking “You don’t have to love your neighbor. But you have to start by not killing them.”