A man by the name of George Orwell once said, “On the whole human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.” His assertion, although made decades ago, timelessly and perfectly defines human nature as I see it, in a single sentence. I believe that human beings can never expect to be faultless in their decision making, regardless of the situation; at the end of the day everyone will have a different opinion on where the line is drawn between what is right and what is wrong. Orwell’s explanation of human nature encompasses the complexity of the concept but does not reference where I believe the controversy about human nature arises; around whether this desire and failure to be good stems from our nature or how we are nurtured. Does human nature influence every person to the same degree? Is it embedded in every thread of our DNA and does it all perhaps extend from our days as neanderthals where we would roam around acting on our flight or fight reflex on a daily basis? Alternatively, are we more influenced by nurturing? Is how our parents raised us and with what values more influential on where we ‘draw the line’ as individuals?
One might also suggest that religion can be a strong positive influence on people’s lives, helping them choose to do the right thing more often. Is the fear of final judgement strong enough to discourage people from dishonest acts? Obviously not all the time, as there is plenty of evidence of religious people, including religious leaders, who have committed acts generally described as being unethical. How can we then expect those who may not be as strongly influenced, whether by religion, or upbringing, or morals, to always make good choices? I believe that life examples demonstrate to us that human nature is a combination of all these influences mentioned previously and many others, that ultimately translate into the decisions we make and what drives us to make the choices we do throughout our lives. Some would suggest we are simply victims of our nature and cannot overcome our natural instinct for preservation but I cannot support such a simplistic view. We are an incredible race capable of great things and yet, we are equally capable of cheating, lying and all sorts of bad behaviour when it suits our purpose. I think that when faced with a situation where the perceived risk is less than the potential personal gain, where the consequences are minimal if any, humans will often choose to do the wrong thing in order to benefit themselves.
The TV program “What Would You Do?” takes this concept to another level, where they look at this issue not from an individual perspective, but from the perspective of doing the right thing for someone else. In each episode an artificial situation is created that challenges bystanders to come to the defense of others who are being mistreated. In episode after episode you see instances where people choose to not get involved and a select few who take action. What explains the different reactions to the same situation? In one particular episode where a Latino mother and her daughter are at a restaurant, another actor harasses them for speaking Spanish in America. While many patrons chose to ignore the situation, a small number of