Human nature is a balancing act | Rich Elfers

This is Google’s core philosophy about human beings, according to Laslo Bock, Google’s head of people operation (human relations) in his recent book, “Work Rules!”

This is Google’s core philosophy about human beings, according to Laslo Bock, Google’s head of people operation (human relations) in his recent book, “Work Rules!”

And because it is good, Google treats people with trust and positive expectations. This philosophic view of human motivation has helped make Google into a multi-billion dollar corporation with more than 57,000 employees. It has been rated as one of the best places in the world to work. This attitude also causes Google to hire the best of the best employees, spending a great deal of time, careful research and effort to do so.

Having read Bock’s book, it’s hard to argue with him. Google’s results seem to prove his point. But is human nature really basically good? If it is, how then can we explain ISIS and its cruelty to other humans who had the misfortune to get in their way? How can we explain cyber hacking, bank robberies and world wars?

The belief that humans are basically good causes us to trust others. Having taught high school students for more than 40 years now, there is an advantage to taking this perspective. If human nature is good, then it’s my job as a teacher to be more patient with human frailties. Students tend to live up to adult expectations.

Political parties are based upon differing beliefs about human nature. Republicans, being conservative, tend to view human nature negatively. Discipline is required to overcome our selfish natures. Punishment for wrongdoing is absolutely necessary in order to maintain order and respect for authority.

Those Republicans who manage others see the need for safeguards and security to protect property and resources. These views are based upon painful experiences with people who take advantage of kindness and naïveté. As a landlord I learned that some renters would take advantage of me if I were too trusting.

Democrats, on the other hand, tend to hold on to hope about the perfectibility of human beings. What is needed is more education to train, discipline and perfect the human mind to higher levels of proper behavior. Those who act in a negative manner do so because that has been the example they have grown up with. Proper role models and mentors will help any person to improve behavior.

Our beliefs and experiences with human nature shape our perceptions. And those perceptions shape our behavior toward others. Our beliefs on this issue place all of us somewhere on a continuum of good and evil in our dealings with others. None of us can escape having an opinion about this topic.

Personally, I’m not as optimistic as Google, nor as pessimistic as many conservatives. I have helped raise several children and have come to the view that all humans are self-centered and self-absorbed as a default. That self-centeredness is neither good nor evil. It just is.

We need to take care of our needs and, at the same time, care for others. Finding the balance and the wisdom to know when to do which is a struggle we deal with our entire lives.

As we age, humans learn to control those self-centered tendencies. We can be taught to care for others as much as we care for ourselves. We can also realize that caring for others is really a way of helping ourselves. Selfishness can be a good thing in that context.

As we mature, we are better able to maintain that tension between self-absorption and concern for others. Times of great stress demonstrate to others and to us how mature, or how childish, we still are deep down. It takes a lifetime of making choices between the two perspectives to set our characters.

As Socrates noted nearly 2,500 years ago, “an unexamined life is one not worth living.” So not being aware of the two roads we all face on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day and week-by-week basis makes it less likely that we will ever become the kind of employees that Google and the rest of the world are searching for.

 

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