Maybe We Need to Have Less 'Faith in Humanity'
Plenty of internet posts try to tell us that humanity is good. But what we really need is to evaluate our own actions and decisions
It's everywhere you look, ever since that BuzzFeed post:
Just example after example of these photo posts, videos, even entire websites, devoted to restoring our "faith in humanity".
It seems beautiful if you think about it. It can be so easy to feel like everyone in the world is bad. All you need to do is go check out the latest news to become incredibly depressed about the state of the world. There are massacres in Syria; concentration camps in North Korea; school shooters in our own backyard. Everywhere you look, it can easily feel like humanity is letting us down.
So it's no wonder that these posts, these videos, these websites, have been gaining so much traction. We want so badly to believe that humanity is good, that people want to do the right thing, and that any evil out there is just an illusion – just people whose parents didn't hug them enough at night. But there's a hidden danger in this campaign, something that is more insidious than it seems.
First of all, does humanity really deserve to be redeemed? Is it really a good idea to restore our faith in the people around us?
History is replete with examples of people having, if anything, too much faith in humanity. An example is how so few people, even ambassadors that visited the country at the time, believed Adolf Hitler was really capable of committing a genocide of an entire people, of having a deep desire to take over the world, or that Germany would be okay with going along for the ride.
But Hitler's too easy, too obvious. If you just point out Hitler, then people assume he's the only evil person to exist, the exception to the rule. They think that it was just a hiccup of history and that in general everyone else is OK.
So let's look at something a little more recent. For years, Eric Harris, the mastermind behind the Columbine shooting, was suspected of being a really bad dude. His friend, Brooks Brown, received death threats and worse from Harris. Brown's mother worked tirelessly to report him to the police, and even after the police found him in possession of a pipe bomb, little was done.
Brown's mother desperately pleaded with the police to look more carefully into his life, but they didn't. And when the police informed the school administration that he was making pipe bombs, the school didn't do anything either.
No one wanted to admit that this was a person capable of doing something really bad, no matter how many warning signs there were.
It could be argued that in certain circumstances we have entirely too much faith in humanity. And many times, that faith results in horrible consequences.
Now, it goes the other way as well. There are plenty of good people who are accused of being bad. But that just goes to show the true nature of humanity: we're complicated. A person who seems sweet on the outside may be a killer within. And a person who seems nasty and angry all the time might just be hiding a world of pain inside.
But this whole "faith in humanity" thing creates the opposite reality. It paints a world where everyone is good, and all we need is a hug and a pat on the back to stop all the problems of the world.
The funny thing is, you'd think I would love it. I work for a company that regularly shares pictures on Facebook of kindnesses done by random people. We even made a video where we had an actor fall asleep on people on the subway to see how people reacted. We had this sweet music playing in the background as we showed all the wonderful people letting him pass out on their shoulders. We made that video because we want to inspire people to do good, not just to believe in good.
So it frustrated me quite a bit to see how many people commented on the video saying that this video restored their faith in humanity. I kept thinking, "that's not the point, though!" Because when we frame it that way, when we frame beautiful things that people do for others as some sort of proof that people are good, then we are, as a consequence, not thinking about ourselves. We're more worried about how good other people are rather than how good we are.
The truth is, most of us aren't Mother Teresa. And most of us aren't Hitler or Dylan Klebold, either. Most of us are the people in the middle, the people who could be good or bad, all depending on how we choose to live our lives.
Because, at the end of the day, without a country going along with it, Hitler never would have been able to do the evil he did. It was everyday folk who chose to be complicit in evil actions that led a whole nation to torture and destroy others' lives.
Being good or bad, for most of us, is a constant choice. And when we keep trying to restore our faith in others, we miss the whole point of life: that we should actually be restoring our faith in ourselves.
Restoring our faith that we can change the world for the better; that each of us has the power to create a chain reaction of good; that every act we do can transform our reality into a better one.
When we have too much faith in humanity, then we can fall into the trap of believing that "humanity" will save the world. We assume that humanity will naturally work out all its massacres, revolutions and school shootings.
But the truth is that it might not. And the only way it will is if we each individually take stock of our own lives and devote ourselves to changing things for the better, by committing our lives to doing good. We need to have less faith in humanity and more faith in ourselves.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media