Are People Good Or Evil By Nature? (Part 1)

Recently at Undelusional, we developed an onboarding interview to select potential new clients, collaborators and team members. This process sparked off many late-night conversations about people being good or evil by nature. The onboarding interview was designed to help us understand the interviewee’s expectations and thoughts. The interview would help us to decide how to proceed and build our relationships with our clients, partners, and candidates.

A critical realization for our team was that we had a unanimous answer internally to the question “Are people good or evil by nature?”. This was not particularly surprising. However, what was more surprising was that our answer was drastically different from the majority’s opinion. We did multiple rounds of interviews to test the integrity of the onboarding process, to refine it and use that opportunity to get to know the people around a little bit more each day. Why is it different? How could it be different? More importantly, so what? This article is to bring you on my thought journey into the rabbit hole.

Why does this question matter?

When we start going into the crux of how we view our existence, good and evil will inevitably become a central theme. Our view on good and evil decides how we navigate society. To go further, we need to look at how we judge people on a daily basis.

More specifically, we need to look at how we navigate society by looking at people as “good” and “bad”, or that we “like” or “dislike”. Whether it’s “good and evil”, “good and bad”, “like or dislike”, these are all benchmarks to tell us whether we can trust the person in front of us.

All of us find our way through life with these systems to deal with social situations. We carry these checklists at the back of our minds when we have to interact with another person. It happens whether we are in the workplace, at home, or out there in public. We might often not be aware of it, and the next two questions aim to illustrate how this assessment takes place.

Imagine a person wearing a power suit speaking in front of a board room. How much do you believe in the person’s words to spend money on his product?

How about when you see a person dressed shabbily and smelling like he hasn’t showered for months; how much would you trust him with your money?

How each of us judges each person would differ depending on our experiences and assumptions. Who did you trust more, the man in the power suit, or the beggar? We are all intuitive with our answers, and it differs according to how we assume what their intent is.

On a deeper level, our most usual means of deciding whether to trust people in these scenarios is to determine if the person is “good” or “bad”. We then use logic to reason it later, calling it trust.

How is good and evil about trust?

Typically, most people I’ve interacted would call a person that they trust a “good person”, and a person they don’t trust a “bad person”. One common habit that I used to have, and still observe around me, was believing that the person was good because the person treated me well.

A good person is typically one who could do no harm or had no desire to do harm.

A good person is often one who is doing things for the good of others.

A good person is often self-sacrificial and helps others.

A good person is a person who has done things for me.

The reason why “trust” and “good” are often related, is because the determining factor for deciding whether people are good or evil is whether we can trust them not to harm us or the people we care about. Meanwhile, an evil person is one who is unlikely to “do something in my favor”, “is out to hurt me”, or “does not show concern about me”.

When we see a person do a positive deed for another person, we often automatically associate that person as being good and we trust the person more. When we see someone hurt another person, we deem the person evil and would trust the person less.

Let’s return to the questions above. If you think that corporates have been harming humanity and people in power suits in board rooms are just out for their self-interest, would you trust that person? If you have been brought up to believe that beggars are on the streets because they were not contributing members of society, would you trust the beggar?

At the end of the day, trust, the currency of daily social interactions, originates from our belief in good and evil. Therefore, answering the question “Are people by nature good or evil?” is not a question of simply asking whether we’re genetically born sweet, kind and harmless, or selfish, conniving, heartless creatures. Instead, it is a question on your view of humanity, and as a result, the way you view yourself and others.

Wait, so this question is not about whether people are good or evil?

To be frank, everyone has their own answers to this question, and I’m not interested in changing your opinion. My aim is to allow you to float your boat, but know that you’re on it, and steer it in a manner that you truly desire.

Do you want to believe that people are by nature good, but you logically think otherwise? Most people who answered my question on Facebook believe that people are by nature, neutral. And from a further survey, it seems like it’s because they want to believe that humans are by nature good but can’t explain the evil that exists in this world.

The next rabbit hole I’m jumping into with you is my explanation of why humans are by nature good. Hopefully, it can help you unravel the thought knots that stop you from seeing hope in humanity.

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Ethan Seow

Ethan Seow

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Trainer, Speaker, Author, Musician, Ex-Medical Student. Ethan is a mental health maverick focused on helping people gain clarity about their thoughts