Tag Archive | "human nature"

Tell Me That It’s Human Nature

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Deeply embedded in our DNA are certain genetic traits that propel our species forward or at least, ensure its continuation.   Every human being possesses the drive, if not the actual ability, to earn, create, or steal his or her most basic survival needs.  On some level, we all share a sense of humor and a profound desire to be respected and loved.  But beyond that, we are uniquely different individuals, as evidenced in the way that we conduct our daily lives, confront challenges, and rise above our basic — and most base — instincts.

Environment, to a certain extent, determines our perspectives upon and responses to life.  But, environment is not the sole criteria.  Some people assume that karma makes us who we are, and determines what we accomplish, in this life.  Simply put, the concept of karma holds that every human being must set to right those wrongs committed in previous lifetimes.  Thereby, we learn the lessons that advance us spiritually, cease the tedious process of reincarnation, and get on to the next stage in our evolution.

But even karma doesn’t quite explain the quintessential differences between human beings.  If we come into our lifetimes without memories of our previous lives, how are to we know — other than through extremely focused meditation/reflection — which lessons we came back to learn?   And even if we did remember, would we all do the same thing under the same circumstances?

Suppose, for example, that humanity was an experiment in some cosmic lab.  If the being conducting the test were to place two individuals into the exact same environment, under the exact same conditions in order to observe the results of a specified stimuli, five’ll get you ten that, minus the introduction of some variable impacting one of the test subjects, the results would still be vastly different.

Why is this so?  Did our Maker imbue each of us with a very specific personality gene?  Or was it a rogue gene placed there just to amuse that Maker?

Whatever it is, I still can’t answer these questions, not even after twenty-plus years of interviewing and working with individuals from all walks of life.

I still wonder, for example, how Christa McAuliffe, the first female astronaut and a teacher by trade, found the courage to enter a space capsule for the first time, a capsule that would tragically explode above the earth before even achieving orbit, due to a faulty O-ring.   I wonder what caused the strange woman on the subway to loudly and hatefully spew her opinion that Christa deserved to die because she should have stayed home to take care of her family instead of venturing into outer space, and what made those of us who admired Christa unloose tears instead of hatred.

I wonder why one child, physically and verbally abused in early childhood, grew up to make gentle, beautiful music, while another treated the same way in his tender years grew up to make violent and misogynistic rap.

I wonder why Tom Cruise, a renowned actor blessed with success and money, never learned to stop making a complete idiot of himself while John Travolta, another renowned actor blessed with success and money, quietly flew his own plane over New Orleans to airdrop critical supplies, on his own dime, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — while our government sat on its ass and twiddled its thumbs.

I wonder what gave Michelangelo the precision of hand and eye, and the inner vision, to craft something as beautiful and glorious as The David from a lifeless piece of marble. And what causes Puritans the world over to replicate that statue with one major difference: a fig leaf disguising the part of David’s anatomy that shows him to be unquestionably male.

I wonder what caused the highly placed senior executive at a firm that shall remained nameless to flip out one day.  While the man was tossing extremely sensitive documents concerning work that his firm was doing for the government off the roof of the company’s building, and while said executive was giving away bundles of money to every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street, the “lowly” secretary was not only explaining things calmly to the FBI, she was holding the entire company together until its inevitable collapse.

I wonder how much blood money was enough to assuage the consciences of those in government who took bribes from BP and looked the other way while the fuel company raped our environment and our economy in the Gulf.  And I wonder how, in response to that tragedy, unpaid volunteers give tirelessly of their time and energy to clean up the beaches and the wildlife devastated by the worst oil spill the world has ever seen.

I wonder why one contestant on a reality TV show mouths off to a judge’s criticism, another one bawls, and yet a third laughs good-naturedly in the judge’s face.

I wonder why some teens bully and debase those who don’t march to their drummer.  I wonder why those on the receiving end take to heart the cruelty of those who contribute nothing of value to society, and why the victims suffer irreparable emotional harm and some even commit suicide, while their tormenters blithely go shopping at the mall, take in a movie, and spin the latest hip-hop records without a care in the world for the damage they have inflicted.

I wonder about the mother of one the scuz buckets that blinded and killed innocent animals several years ago, under cover of darkness, in the Popcorn Park Zoo, Forked River, New Jersey.  In court, during her son’s trial, the woman had shrugged and told the judge, “They were just animals.”  I wonder what she’d have said if her son had been murdered in jail — for he was incarcerated for his crimes — if his killers had shrugged and said, “Hey, he was just an animal.”

I wonder why Mario Batali’s recipe for struffola seems to work for him, even with what read to me like an overabundance of flour.  But when I tried Mario’s recipe, it yielded something that our military could easily use as weaponry on the front lines.

I wonder why some of my beloved relatives have passed on, while their earthly possessions remain intact.

I wonder why some of us who live healthy lifestyles are felled by cancer, while some of us who smoke like chimneys and eat like gluttons live well into our 80s and 90s.

I wonder if it was that last fried banana sandwich that truly did Elvis in and if it was more romantic/mysterious to hint that he died of an overdose.  I wonder if Aretha Franklin, one of my favorite singers, who must consume a bucket of fried chicken before every concert in order to calm her nerves, wonders the same thing that I do about Elvis.

Sometimes these things, and things like them, keep me up at night.  Sometimes I think that Sting was right when he penned the line, “History will teach us nothing.” Sometimes I think that yes, God must have implanted us all with that rogue gene, just to keep things interesting — if not supremely perplexing! 

The Question

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“One man come in the name of love,

One man come and go.

One man come he to justify,

One man to overthrow.


One man caught on a barbed wire fence,

One man, he resist.

One man washed on an empty beach,

One man betrayed with a kiss.”


— Pride (in the Name of Love) by U2



The Irish rockers’ hard-driving eulogy to Dr. Martin Luther King infers the question of what possesses one soul to perpetrate hatred and violence, another to act in a peaceful and humanitarian manner, and yet a third to cover his derriere by refusing to take a stand either way.  A more careful listen to Bono’s verses reveals an even deeper puzzle: the very crux of human behavior. Or perhaps more accurately, the influences that drive it.


Like many business professionals who interact with individuals from all walks of life operating on varying levels of authority, the same question burns often in my brain; it burns daily, in fact.  Like a defective car engine, it grinds over and over, going nowhere.  I have yet to find a definitive answer to the mystery of why people do the things that they do.  What makes one person a role model and another person one that you simply want to roll over … behind the wheel of your car … and then back up and do it again?  Is it circumstance and environment that mold our perspectives?  Is it faith, the belief that there is something greater than ourselves to whom we are accountable?  Is it is a response to our cumulative, distinctly personal life experiences or rather, to a single shattering epiphany that turns our life view upon its axis?


While I remain bereft of an answer, human nature in all its dizzyingly diverse, jaw-dropping glory and ignominy continues to fascinate me. A mere handful of the mesmerizing enigmas to which I have been privy include:


The woman dying of cancer with grace and good humor while her relative, watching her suffer and in her very presence, complains of his minor aches and pains …


The celebrity haughtily refusing to sign autographs for the fans who have made her famous and another celebrity who, treated crassly by his followers after one of his show-stopping performances, embodies the concept of grace under pressure…


The immigrant who toils so hard, her fingers literally bleed while her granddaughter, raised under the woman’s own roof, grows up as lazy as a sloth…


The man who engineered the merger between two Fortune 500 companies, one of the most humble souls I have ever encountered, and later that same day, the secretary who thought she walked on water…


The women two-timed by the same louse, each of whom was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that her rival “wore the horns” while refusing to lay a lick of blame at the scheming cheater’s feet …


Written out in its entirety, my complete list would no doubt circumnavigate the Earth.  Twice!  And yet, as with a scab that never heals, I continue to scratch at the question of human nature.  Along with Bono, popular country music band Sugarland asks similar questions in an attempt to define “Love” in their recent hit of the same name:


“Is it a veil or a cross?

Is it the poet’s gift?

Is it the face that has launched over thousands of ships?

Is it making you laugh?

Is it letting you cry?

Is it where we believe that we go when we die?”


The song’s writers, Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owens, may have hit upon something with that last line.  Those who believe in reincarnation are also possessed of the notion that human souls must pass through many lifetimes in order to learn nine major life lessons, and that our refusal to learn those lessons is the catalyst for positioning us, again and again, into our human frailties, triumphs, and tribulations.  Perhaps, when I learn my final lesson and come face to face for the last time with my God, He/She will be kind enough to share with me the punch line to the infinite, head-scratching joke that is human nature. 

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