Tuesday, August 23, 2011

4.17.2009 The Problem with People

World leaders are often asked what they see as the biggest problem facing our planet today.  We have come to expect the standard responses: hunger, poverty, AIDS, lack of health care, oppressive governments, global warming.  But I wonder: what do all of these problems have in common?

You can take a moment to decide how you would answer that.  Here's my opinion:

All of the world's problems are caused by us.  People.  More specifically, it is the selfishness in each of us that originates, perpetuates, and exasperates all the major ills we face today.  

On the one hand, self-concern is a built-in survival mechanism that ensures we find ways to live.  I feel hunger, so I feed myself; I need shelter, so I build (or buy) a home.  But as our perceived needs multiply, we begin to choose to take care of ourselves at the cost of neglecting others.  Fear is the other side of the selfish coin; the more I fear that I won't be taken care of, the more I protect my "stuff".  If I worry that I won't have enough [of whatever I want], then I keep what I might have been tempted to share or to give in order to make sure I have what I (think I) need.

We can easily see fear and selfishness at work in the extreme.  Oppressive societies thrive as those in power hoard resources and maintain a fear-based reality for the entire community.  But we who live in this civilized, opportunity-for-all nation like to believe we are not capable of such baseness.  We overlook the fact that selfishness is not just about keeping our tangible goods to ourselves; it is also apparent in the time we won't take in an argument to listen to the other's perspective and the energy we won't give on our day off to volunteer to work for someone else.  We guard our emotions and keep our relational investments simple.  When a spouse or a friend or an employer wrongs us, we won't make the first move to reconcile, and we withhold our 'services' in punishment. 

In our deepest heart, we are selfish [with our time, money, love, service] because we are always afraid that we won't be taken care of.  This is the human condition.  This is why, in my opinion, there will always be evil in this world.  Because no matter how much we try or how much we want to change, we will always be fighting an instinctive desire to protect ourselves.  And I do believe that some people don't even want to battle this instinct; instead, they completely surrender to it and live out of fear. 

I would be remiss to explain "the problem with people" and not offer my opinion on the solution.  But that is for another post - so check back!

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