Thursday, March 29, 2012

Some Thoughts on Good and Evil

by Miki Kashtan

Seriously, don't you wonder if anything can be written about this topic that hasn't already been said many times over? I did, too, until I encountered Nonviolent Communication while I was in graduate school pursuing a doctoral degree in sociology. I wasn't studying good and evil, at least I didn't think I was. I had no idea, at the time, that my interest in the relationship between reason and emotion was intertwined with the deepest and most perennial questions of human nature, hence with matters of good and evil which I had set aside for years.
I never liked the Medieval belief that human beings are innately evil, bad, or sinful, because I intuitively couldn't fathom why and how nature would give rise to sinful creatures. I also didn't ever find more satisfaction in the modern notions of "evil" such as the "selfish gene" evolutionary theory or the Freudian notions of an innate aggressive drive. Proponents of all such theories are hard-pressed to explain acts of true kindness, especially in the face of potential consequences, such as those who saved Jews during the Holocaust at risk to their own lives.
Like most people who balk at theories of sin, the only alternative I could come up with was to imagine human beings as being innately good. That, too, didn't fit the reality I saw. As a Jew growing up in Israel, the Holocaust was simply too vivid a memory, presenting too much evidence to the contrary to dismiss. I was left with too many unanswered questions whichever way I looked at the issues.