Human nature: good or evil?

The intent of training in Logotherapy is to get the students to become fully and honestly and truly themselves. There is no way that you can really get through to another person if you are not yourself. We must think things through for ourselves. We must above all, learn from our lives how to act and what attitude to have to make us feel at peace with ourselves.

Conscience is that capacity that distinguishes us from the animals. It is a higher form of awareness – an ability to discern, judge, and grasp the difference between what we learn to perceive as right from what is wrong. We learn to distinguish good from bad, especially in terms of how this reflects on ourselves. “If I will be doing that, will I feel good about myself or not?” “That kind of person, his or her attitude and behavior impresses me. I feel drawn to it. I admire it. I find it good. It is good for me, for others and for that person. Look how this person shines, has joy and peace. See how these kinds of people like themselves and how they are able to give account of themselves and their actions with integrity and conviction. What a person! I want to be like that!”

It is this kind of intuitive knowing, this aversion to ugly, cruel or violent behavior on one hand and an attraction to and admiration of loving and caring behavior on the other hand that provides clear evidence of our inherent desire for what is good. We are repelled by lying, cheating, arrogance and cold-heartedness. We want to be kind and loving, to be considerate, compassionate, non-judgmental, accepting, understanding, forgiving and patient. In all of our relationship one to another, these are the attitudes and behaviors we can agree to associate with ourselves. This is the kind of person we want to and feel we ought to be. We need to feel good about ourselves. This is the nature of who we are!

What is wrong clearly goes against human nature as it was designed to be. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This is the whole Law of being. What is wrong is anything that spoils what we feel about ourselves and that harms our relationships with one another. We designate these hurtful and harmful aspects of human behavior as “bad” or sinful exactly because it is a sin against our own nature, our humaneness. Depending on its severity and intensity, these hurtful and harmful behaviors are ultimately judged as downright “evil.” Why do those who commit evil take such pains to justify and excuse their behavior by shifting the blame from themselves onto their victims? Even they cannot bear to think of themselves as evil! Nobody wants to think of themselves as someone bad. Such perceptions pain us with feelings of guilt and shame. They make us want to hide ourselves from the light of our own conscience. Evil people try their best to trample their own conscience under foot. Hitler, for example, called conscience a Jewish invention with which to afflict the world!

Each of us need to step right into who we are meant to be, what we intuitively know we were created to be like (in God’s image). Ungodly attitudes and behavior frighten us. We clearly sense that this type of being was not meant to be. Hurtful behavior of others towards us pains us but it puts a choice before us. We can react in a hurtful manner as well or we can stay true to ourselves. Such a situation awakens our own sense of moral integrity. How will we feel about ourselves after we’ve reacted? Will we feel we want to associate with the person we’ve become?

We can look at ourselves and say, I am a decent, good and loving person, created in the image of God. This person who is hurting me is out of touch with her or himself. She is hurting herself and doing herself an injustice. My task is to win her around if I can, by setting the kind of example she can become drawn to.

This kind of attitude on our part as Logotherapists provokes our clients into a different mode of thinking about themselves and the world. It breaks them down in the end, either through repentance and change, or definitely through moving away from their suspicions, distrusts and fears and in stepping into who they are, caring-ly and responsibly!

Evil works along a continuum. What may be misperceptions, distrusts, suspicions and vengeful, self-defensive feelings to start with, if not corrected and changed, can move to greater coldness, and to hatred, then to violent and destructive attitudes and actions towards others. Yes, we are called to the decision not to give in to the negative, not to move into what starts off as a wrong and can end up as something despicable, totally evil. We are to move along the continuum of goodness, from the point of choosing not to give in to impulses to do what we sense should not be, but to do what we sense is right and what the situation is requiring of us to do or be. Such continued actions and attitudes lead us to a greater and fuller embrace and exercise of the good towards the end of total goodness!

The achievement of the end goal of goodness, the striving always to get and be there, is our human commission. It is nothing less than the achievement of human greatness: we are to become what we have been created to be! (submitted by Teria Shantall)

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