Lately, many of my deepest and longest-held beliefs and tenets have been challenged. This has been happening for a long time now, but it’s been accelerated recently by events externally in the world, and internally in my own personal orbit. One of those tenets is that it is a morally defensible position to believe that people are naturally good.
I recently watched a Jordan Peterson interview with Dennis Prager, in which Prager introduced Peterson as a “good person” and Peterson countered by saying, (and I paraphrase somewhat for brevity) “I would never claim to be good. I think it’s dangerous. But in reading history, I did become terrified of how terrible I could be. And I would say that I have tried to avoid the pathways that lead people to the dark places that they go, and that there is something in that that might approximate good.”
There was a rash of gang shootings in Seattle over the last month, and my precious, gentle friend and co-worker recently saw the fresh body of a seventeen-year-old kid shot to death, bleeding out on the sidewalk at the hospital campus she works at. I didn’t realize the extent of her trauma until a recent get-together with my colleagues from my hospital’s other campuses. My co-worker is someone who I would consider a classic “good person,” a warm, kind human being who is probably a little too trusting. Part of her trauma came from the shock of seeing true evil at play.
I am coming to realize that it’s been been a luxury for me to go through life believing that people are essentially good. We hear about horrible things happening all of the time, but until we come face to face with them, they remain more or less theoretical. We can’t really process that human beings have darkness and savagery within them until we see something like that. And because we don’t see it in other people, it’s very hard to see it in ourselves. And that’s the really dangerous part. In trying to process this local tragedy, I spent the morning listening to a podcast about the much bigger and far more atrocious My Lai massacre. It drove home to me how important it is to not get complacent about our own potential for evil. Believing that humanity is essentially good is dangerous and foolish. We have to face the truth of who we are as human beings and be vigilant, or we will fall to prey to savagery, violence and acts of inhumanity, no matter how “good” we convince ourselves we are.
That having been said, my colleague discovered a deep well of hidden strength within her during the incident, and she stepped up, went way above and beyond, and handled the ordeal with true moral leadership. I am really proud of her.
Usually when I write a heavy post, I feel obligated to end on a light note, but not today. If you are up to facing it, the My Lai podcast is #31 in the Jocko Podcast series. You can find it wherever you normally get your pods.