Key Aspects of Human Nature
One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as we seek to shift toward personal and cultural balance is: “What is genuine human nature and what does our culture say is human nature?” Why are we really here on this planet, and what does our culture tell us our purpose is? We need to be able to distinguish our cultural messages from the truth of our needs and desires as human beings in order to see our cultural upbringing and determine whether it serves us or not. It is important to also discern true values from lip service. With culture as well as with people, we can learn a lot about underlying values by looking at actions and behaviors rather than verbal messages. What people say, and what the culture “says”, sometimes contradicts observable patterns of behavior, but it is the behavior which reflects true priorities. It is, of course, impossible to reflect the full spectrum of experiences and variations in a culture. The trends described here are generalizations, with all the limits that entails.
The views presented here are not the only way to view human nature, and there isn’t one right or wrong way to see it. These are just a few ideas which seem important and which might serve us well as a way to think about our needs and potentials as humans. The intent here is not to illustrate the “right” view – we can’t claim that there is a correct way to view humanity. All we know for certain is that the way we view ourselves and our place in the universe really matters to the quality of our experience, and that many people in our culture are disheartened and downtrodden right now. If our view of human nature is honest and empowering, then we are on the road (or “bridge”) to living more harmoniously.
It is difficult to discern “true” human nature when our experience is so colored by our cultural upbringing. The following ideas come from attempting to observe human behavior objectively and also from learning about cooperative peoples whose cultures have endured many thousands of years. The assumption underlying these views is that if people were able to live with less stress and unhappiness for a very, very long time with a particular set of beliefs, then those beliefs must have served them well. By learning about that culture, we gain perspective on our own and get a little closer to understanding true human nature.
This segment of the discussion unfolds in a point-by-point cultural comparison, much like the earlier piece about cultural values. First an idea from our current culture is presented, followed by an alternative perspective.