Friday, May 26, 2006

Moral Development

I found another "formerly homeless" blog today. It is written by a 27 year old guy in Australia who has been on the streets since the age of six:

My thoughts about human intent have been a great catalyst for personal change. I believe in the "general goodness" of the human heart. I can't zero in on when this idea occurred to me, but it has been a very strong and seemingly permanent belief of mine. I'm not alone in thinking that every human has a basic good intention at heart-- it has been called "Moral Development." Now, I'm not a philosophy scholar, so I won't give you a reading list, but I will say that faith in human intent could be argued as one of the building blocks of society. If you want an expanded description of Moral Development complete with big words and tricky sentences, try this link:

To link this idea to my personal changes, let me begin with the premise:

"Everybody is doing the best they can to help others at every single point in their life."

I know, it seems a little extreme when I put it like that. After all, when we are hanging out on the beach, thinking about sex or sunshine, how can we say that we are helping anybody but ourselves? Furthermore, there have been several historical figures who have seemingly convinced us that human evil is not only possible, but common. I offer no proof that humans are incapable of evil, and many examples that people have given me in debates about this idea have seemed daunting. Nevertheless, I believe. I see the possibility that when we are seemingly self-indulgent, we could be resting on the beach to cope with the difficulties of helping people all day long. This "coping" could be part of some cycle of tension and release: Help and back off, help and back off. I look at all the atrocities that have been carried out by cult leaders, dictators, and sociopaths, and I can honestly see how these people could create a Machiavellian excuse for their actions. I think on a very deep level that a seemingly-evil dictator who has attempted genocide believes that more lives will be saved or enhanced by his/her actions (hmmmm... female dictators... oh nevermind). Like I said, I can't prove humans are good, I just believe it.

Now, if you take this basic belief and apply it to a person facing extreme poverty, abuse, and/or homelessness, it's easy to see how having a positive view of humanity is helpful. Because I believe in general good intent, I can forgive my mother, I can understand the people who passed me by on the street corner, and I can feel positive about my future. This is not to say that I haven't had doubts, or felt disillusioned by people (we certainly do some stupid shit sometimes). I think the key is to have an overall positive outlook, and look for a benevolent reason why people cause harm to others. It seems to me that my life is more "on track" when I am enamored with humankind. At the lowest points in my life on the street, I was bitter and angry with "all the fools of the world," and even more angry with myself.

Self-doubt and doubt of humanity are intrinsically tied together. Those who are the most critical of humans have to include themselves in the mix, unfortunately. Ironically, people who espouse that humans have "evil" or "sinful" nature are making the point for the purpose of teaching others it seems, which is quite a contradiction(I see teaching as a benevolent action). I think we all move through phases of doubt and pessimism, but even at those moments, we are still trying to teach, and help others. For me it is just so much easier to admit that I love people, and accept my inner Barney.

Perhaps my positive slant is merely a coping mechanism. Perhaps all the pain I went through makes me wish that the world was better than it is, and I have deluded myself to cope with reality. As far as I can see, the origin of my belief doesn't really matter. Good gets done, and the question of why becomes less and less important.

The best counselors and helpers that I have talked to have always tried to focus on my good intentions, to help me see that I was of value. I remember one session in particular that shifted my thinking, and propelled me into action. I was ranting about how middle-class North America was so materialistic and greedy. The therapist that I was seeing asked me about my own values, and then asked "If you became rich, would you suddenly become selfish and greedy as well?" That question sat with me for a long time, and I finally came to the realization that "middle-classers" were probably not much different than me, they just had more money. By focusing on my good values, the counselor gently led me to understand that people are simply doing the best they can. They are sometimes misled, or caught up in circumstances, but they are not greedy by nature. I try to emulate this helping style when I can, because I believe that positive human intent--more importantly the awareness of it--is the key to unlocking the door of personal growth.

"Man's nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield to the influence of love. You must never despair of human nature."


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