Upon deeper reflection on some popular adages, we often realize some of them just do not hold up and seem to exist solely to lead us to error; one of them is in the title. I have always been outraged by the concept that, deep down, aggressive and cruel people have a “heart of gold,” one that is rarely seen. I think that what happens deep down in these people is very important, but their day-to-day behavior matters even more.
The worst part of the adage “everyone has a good side” is that, as a rule, it’s true. But here’s the catch: it lumps all human beings into a single group and overlooks what I believe are crucial disparities, regarding ratios and human daily behavior. Although unmitigated good and evil are uncommon, there are huge discrepancies between people who are predominantly good and those who are predominantly bad. That sweeping assumption overlooks this fact, which benefits, as usual, people whose ethics are dubious.
It might be reasonable to assume that about half of humankind has a predominantly good day-to-day deportment: these are the ones who worry about other people’s pain, take care of their loved ones and expect the same, or more, from themselves, than they do from others. Their kindness to others, for instance, makes them agree with the idea that everyone has a good side. Of course, people who are predominantly kind also do get annoyed occasionally and react badly to situations that, most of the time, would not affect them as much. Usually, this happens when they are tired, had too much to drink, didn’t have a good night’s sleep or, to several women, when they are suffering from PMS, among other reasons.
The other half of humankind is perhaps less tolerant to frustration and setbacks. These people are often rude, demanding and always seem to be unhappy, as if they are owed something more. They don’t feel guilt when they hurt others and are not particularly concerned about the well-being of the people around them. Their first priority is always themselves. It’s true that, sometimes, they might act generously, when feeling sorry for someone who is in a bad place; in this case, they feel comfortable in their own superiority and can offer help. They might even treat kindly people to whom they are usually abusive, due to jealousy, when the person they envy is not in a good place.
In some special circumstances, even those who are usually rude and inconsiderate can be kind. This happens more often on social situations, that is, when others are watching. For instance, a predominantly selfish person might devote themselves to a sick relative who has been admitted to a hospital; people they know will see their actions and admire their selflessness. The first half of people I mentioned are just as caring at home, away from the eyes of others. That’s because they hold their own values and don’t care as much for appearances that make them seem nice only whenever there’s an audience.
Very few people, maybe 1% of humankind, have no compassion and don’t even try to feign kindness in social situations. They do not fear the social consequences of their actions and clearly only care about themselves. Their cruelty appears whenever they are displeased; small things can cause barbarous reactions. These are the antisocial, the psychopaths, and they do not have a single drop of goodness in them. Conversely, maybe 1% of people will not forgo their values and convictions even under the most unendurable strain. They renounce self-interest and live for their causes, whether political or religious, and do not give in even when threatened by imminent death. These are saints and martyrs, people who do not have a single evil bone in their bodies.
However, the fact that 98% of humankind sometimes can be caring and kind and, on other occasions, be aggressive and abusive does not mean, if I am right, that we are all “birds of a feather.” The differences are clear and should be emphasized in benefit of the moral evolution of our species.
Tradução: Amanda Morris