The Truth about People

August 24, 2015

Are most people good or bad? I’m talking deep down, at their core, do people behave in socially acceptable ways because that’s what they’re really like or are our rules and laws the only thing keeping us from descending into violence and madness?

It’s tough to overlook how terrible we can be to our fellow humans. We read stories about the atrocities people will commit against each other–violence of all kinds, psychological mistreatment, taking advantage of those less fortunate for personal gain–and it’s tempting to think people must be pretty rotten underneath it all.

But as a counterweight, we get stories of the great kindness people will show each other as well. People do wonderful things for others all the time. They give of their money, their time, their blood and organs even, to make life better for someone else with no expectation of remuneration or accolades. Surely this means that, at bottom, most folks are good and kind and we just don’t always see it. All around us there are good people doing wonderful things to make the world a better place.

This is a source of endless, seemingly unresolvable debate. But I am here to change that! I’ve given this a lot of thought, and like the clear calm that follows a storm, the answer was revealed to me. So here it is.

Most people are not particularly good or bad. Most people are boring.

And thank the heavens for that, right? Can you imagine a world where everyone is interesting and exciting, always doing things that demand attention? What a nightmare! That sounds exhausting. No thanks. I’ll take a world where most people just kinda want to get by, stay fed and warm, maybe listen to some tunes or watch some TV at the end of the day. I think people mostly want to be left alone.

There’s good news in this. I think the inherent averageness of people, their general unremarkability, tends to skew positive over the long-term. I think the default operating mode for most humans is benign indifference with a slight bias toward cooperation.

Make no mistake. It’s true that in our dark moments, when push comes to shove, our selfishness, our basest instincts towards self-interest and preservation, tend to trump all else. Yet most of the time, I think people are inclined to kinda work together to make sure most stuff stays on track because we know it makes things generally easier and better for ourselves as well. We disagree about what that means all the time, and we behave in dumb, weirdly tribal ways about what’s good or bad or right or wrong. We’ve got generations of baggage that make us do all sorts of silly things. We believe things that probably wouldn’t make much sense to us if we’d stop and think about them, which we won’t because most of us are tired and boring and want to be left alone. Worse, unfortunately, the people who are truly awful are often able to wield outsized power in the world.

But in general, most people are harmless and sorta boring. What a relief.

I would encourage readers not to think too hard about what you just read. I didn’t think that hard about writing it! I’m too busy hiking. So much hiking…so, so, much hiking. What I’m saying is, my legs are pretty tired, and I just want to watch some TV. 

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