The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, August 28, 2005
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If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a human soul.

Henry David Thoreau

I think that Thoreau was on to something in that quote. I think it touches on the biggest source of anguish for the human race. People are like plants. When planted in the right soil, plants flourish. When planted in the wrong soil, they barely grow, turn yellow, and probably die before their time. Or perhaps the wrong soil will make a plant grow too fast and become an obnoxious weed. What might normally be an appropriate defense mechanism, like a thorn or a pointy edge, becomes aggressive and offensive. So too with people. Find the right community with the right values and interests, and a human being will likewise flourish. Be surrounded by people who really aren’t like you, who just don’t see the good in you, and you shrivel (or grow too strong and aggressive).

People are different from plants in that we are all so different. With plants, all petunias do well in one set of soil and climate and terrain; all pine trees do well in another. But with humans, every member of the species is different. I would do well in one set of circumstances, but my brother, who shares a lot of my own genes, does well in entirely different circumstances (and we both do poorly in the other one’s appropriate environment).

I honestly believe that everyone would be a “good person” if they were just brought up and remained rooted in the environment that was meant for them. Everyone would be moral and virtuous and highly accomplished in some field. Everybody would make a positive contribution to the greater good within his or her own lifetime. But in reality, very few people turn out this way. People get depressed, get nasty, commit crimes, get greedy, get materialistic, get fixated on achievement and power and ego, etc. We either wither or turn to weeds. Stalin and Hitler are prime examples of weeds. People who commit suicide or destroy themselves with drugs or alcohol are prime examples of witherers. And there’s a whole lot of quiet desperation in between those extremes.

I honestly believe that everyone is inherently good, and given the right environment would be good at something (as well as becoming good to others). I believe that God sets our “default” switches on “GOOD”. But then God randomly scatters our seeds, so that the chances of winding up with the right kind of soil and the right climate are fairly slim. Well, so much for the Intelligent Design argument!

Perhaps Nature has its reasons for making us all so different and not always placing us to best advantage. Perhaps it’s good that a person who had the natural talent to be a great violinist becomes a warehouse laborer and engages in spousal violence. Perhaps it’s good that a person who should have been an athlete becomes a drunken third rate lawyer. Perhaps it’s good that a great scientist tries to survive as a bit-part actor and is hospitalized for clinical depression. Perhaps it’s good that someone who would have made a wonderful parent becomes a priest who abuses children. Maybe it’s best for the survival of the species that a wide range of (mostly unused) talents are available most everywhere, so that if conditions suddenly change, someone will be able to adapt to it (and have children and keep the species alive).

Imagine if there were dinosaurs that were built for cold weather and lived miserably in the warm, swampy weather of the Jurassic Era. Eventually they would have had their day, and we still might have had dinosaurs today.

Still, we are human beings, and we have brains; our credo is “it doesn’t have to be like this”. If we could focus ourselves on the problem of finding the best place for each of us (not in terms of weather or soil conditions, but in terms of social factors and communal values), then I think there would be a whole lot less unhappiness and a whole lot more good behavior amidst the human race. I really think that is a prerequisite for the elimination of war and starvation and poverty and wealthy families living in gated communities. Perhaps it’s a bit utopian, but I say we should work on the question of finding the right place for everyone. If it could somehow be done, or even partly done, then more people would feel like human beings; and more and more people would then actually live like caring human beings!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:17 pm      

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