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Contemplating Human Nature

Lately, I have heard human nature tossed around as the explanation for nearly every form of indecent, irresponsible, criminal behavior imaginable. Have you ever noticed that human nature is only used to explain undesirable behavior? Any time a person or group is caught participating in highly questionable or downright illegal activity, the reaction is, “Oh well, what can you expect? It’s human nature?”

Why is it that we don’t use the human nature explanation when a person or group is observed performing unselfish, compassionate acts? “Wow, did you see how she just jumped right in there to save that kid without even thinking about it?” “Oh yeah, well that’s just human nature.” I can’t recall a single time when human nature has been suggested as the reason for admirable behavior.

Now I’m not an expert on human nature, but it seems to me that if something can be attributed to human nature then, by definition, we would all be involved in whatever behavior or activity is in question. We would be powerless to do otherwise because it is our nature. Sort of like the squirrels in my backyard. They spend every day collecting food, stuffing their cheeks and rushing back and forth to their nests. They don’t stop to check on the weather to see if it’s harsh or mild. They are driven by their nature to store as much food as they can, all of them. I’ve never seen a single squirrel sitting back, relaxing, while watching all the others scurrying around.

So I find attributing only undesirable behavior to human nature curious since as human beings we are clearly capable of both desirable and undesirable actions. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that human nature is not the explanation for either. Rather, it seems to me that it is human nature to have choice.

Everything we do, from the instant we open our eyes when we awake until the instant we close them in sleep, is a choice. Granted, many of the choices we make are so routine that we are not even aware of them, but they are choices nevertheless. For every choice we make, there are consequences. To choose one option means to not choose the others. Therein lies the rub. Taking responsibility for our choices, especially when the consequences end up being detrimental to us or those we love, can be extremely difficult.

Now let me make it perfectly clear that I am not suggesting that everything that happens to us is by choice. However, a great deal of what happens to us is due to the choices we have made. And for everything that happens to us, we do get to choose how to deal with it. Unfortunately, our choices are not always what we’d like. Sometimes we are faced with choosing between equally distasteful choices. But that is the nature of having choice. With choice come consequences. With the freedom to make choices comes the responsibility for their consequences.

I would further submit that the process by which we make choices is significantly influenced by observation and experience. Certainly factors such as age, maturity level, and intellectual capacity are also at play. The older we get, the more complicated the decisions between our choices become and the more profound the consequences. Mistakes are inevitable. But no matter how clear and sensible our explanations may be, they do not excuse us from responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Admitting that we have made a poor choice is never easy, but perhaps a better use of our time and energy would be spent in making amends rather than excuses.

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