Right versus Wrong, Good versus Evil

People often say that we are born inherently good but learn to become “evil” as we grow older or conversely some say that we are born inherently evil and self-serving only to learn to control our reptilian brains and be kinder to others. I don’t accept either premise. I know there are scientific studies out there that purport to prove either proposition. Some studies reference animal behavior showing how by nature they work together, that it’s instinctual and they will say that we as animals are the same. However, you can show how some animals are instinctually self-serving and go by survival of the fittest. So as animals, why wouldn’t that also apply to us? Now it’s true we as animals do have instinctual tendencies. However, unlike most in the animal kingdom, our brains grasp far more about our environment, our existence and our place in it than other species. The nature of our so-called developed brains often override any instinctual characteristics the human race may have. That being said, I’m of the opinion that as humans, we are born with a clean slate regarding how we view the world, our environment, our place in it and from the time of birth throughout our developmental years and beyond, how we are raised by our families (or lack thereof) and our environment determines what kind of person we become and more importantly, what kind of society we end up with.

Environment determines how the people who exist within it will think and those people together determine the values not only of the society they are a part of, but what is considered right or wrong, good or evil as those terms do tend more times than not to be relative, determined by the collective of the society as a whole. Environment is the physical locality where you exist, the views of those who raise you (what they consider good, evil, right, wrong, productive, unproductive, important, unimportant, ethical, unethical, moral, immoral etc. etc. etc.) and the views of your neighborhood, city or town, county, state, nation as presented to you by media, social media, word of mouth, etc.

Over time, societies develop a sense of what is considered right and wrong, good and evil from their environment. The “movers and shakers” of society influence the “clean slates” of the new humans in that society. They begin to teach, they begin to preach, they begin to set examples, they begin to get airtime and/or social media time and certain behavior is either rewarded, punished or held indifferently.

As we develop we begin with a clean slate on just about everything short of breathing, eating and defecating. Learning to do certain things like driving, cooking, hunting, playing instruments, math, etc. we have to learn and often we must choose to learn them or not. At first, those skills are difficult and confusing. However over time and practice we become better at them, we improve the more we practice such skills. It’s the same with human interactions with others and doing what is considered to be right or wrong.

From a young age we all quickly learn what our society considers to be right and wrong. You then have a choice. You chose to start doing what is considered right and good. The more you do it, the better you get at it and it becomes habit. You chose to start doing things that are wrong and evil, the more you do it, the more that behavior becomes habit and second nature. The environment around you often present rewards and/or consequences for such behaviors that determine if you continue to go with one path or another. If the nature of your environment simply ignores you doing certain behavior, then there’s no consequence beyond possible getting some recognition for doing it, but no punishment. So for the desire of getting attention and not getting in trouble for it, you continue to act in the same way until it becomes habit. And as we all know, habits are tough to break.

Recently I began substituting. I’ve been working at various schools covering a wide array of neighborhoods of varied socioeconomic strengths and weaknesses. Prior to this, I worked over 30 years with the probation department, supervising at different times both adult and juveniles and getting to know the backgrounds of these people that led to them ending up in the system.  I was substituting for a 5th grade class in a rather affluent neighborhood. The day prior to me substituting for this class, there was an incident in the cafeteria where the majority of students were loud and disrespectful to the staff trying to maintain order. They began to taunt and harass one women to the point where she was in tears. So the next morning one of the school counselors came to each class to reprimand the students for their behavior and advised that it would no longer be tolerated. However, as this is a public school the students knew very little beyond calling their parents would be the consequence. After she left some of the kids started laughing about the threat. They laughed about the woman who cried the day before. They started talking about why it was empty, why their parents wouldn’t care, and all this with me listening, as if I wasn’t there. These kids were choosing to be disrespectful towards adults

Now we all know how we as kids treated our substitutes and little has changed. So I had problems trying to maintain order in the class. A few of the kids continued to do the same “wrong” things in class despite me calling it to their attention and trying to get them to focus on their assignments. As these kids were getting my attention, some of the other students appeared upset over the situation, while others enjoyed it and tried to get the same attention by exhibiting the same behavior.

So I decided to have a talk with them, using the same forceful tone of voice I used with convicted criminals. It got their attention so I then explained to them what I once did for a living. I explained to them that they all know the difference between right and wrong and that by continuing to do the wrong thing all the time makes that habit. It ends up getting worse, like a rolling snowball.

Then I told them that the behavior some of them were choosing to involve themselves in, by their own personal choice would likely lead them into running afoul of the law they if they choose to not change it. I told them that even though they are children, they are legally required to abide by all the same laws adults do and that I’ve worked with ten and eleven year olds held in a Juvenile Probation Detention Center. I told them their current behavior reminded me of the kids held on detention. Most took what I said seriously and I could see the wheels spinning in their heads. However, as to be expected a couple of these kids just continued on. One child try to draw more attention to himself by acting out more. I told the rest of the class to ignore him. So he said something to the effect of “fine, then I’ll just kill myself” and mimicked shooting himself in the head. He then went to his next class and did the same thing there but also rummaged through his backpack like he was trying to find a gun. The school went into lockdown.

I found out the next day that this was a new student who had been causing problems since starting, he’s been a “ring-leader” of other students getting into trouble and his parents won’t hold him accountable. He was suspended and his parents are upset for how he was treated and singled out.

Reflecting on this, it occurred to me that our society is devolving into what we once considered to be wrong and evil is now permissible and such behavior is a means towards success. More people have been raised and permitted to get away with such bad behavior as children and then through their adult years. They have never been held accountable for that behavior, even rescued for doing it. Some have become powerful.

They end up being followed and praised by others who also have never been accountable for behavior most of us find abhorrent. They present an argument, belief, ideology that such behavior is acceptable, and is the “new normal” and should be permitted. I’m of course speaking of Donald Trump, his family and his base of support from people who have grown up thinking and doing racist, corrupt, evil, cruel things to others without serious consequence. Their behavior and beliefs are now habit and part of their nature. They’re trying to recruit more people to join their ranks. If successful, we can expect our society to become one where bullying, corruption, theft, racism, bigotry, misogyny, hatred becomes the norm for the majority. The leadership in the GOP, Fox News and Social Media is working to spread this belief and few if any are trying to counteract it.

The society we live in is the product on the values our citizens learn and make second nature. Too many of us are comfortable living in a society where all the things we were raised on, that were considered good for growth and stability are now tossed aside for a society where self-centeredness, cruelty to others, obtaining personal wealth by all means legal or otherwise is acceptable regardless of the cost to others. If we as a society continue to say and do nothing to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior, that’s where we’re heading.

If on the other hand you want to maintain and grow a society where good works and deeds are second nature, then start rewarding people for exhibiting positive qualities and punish those who do the opposite. Don’t excuse evil behavior at home, work, school, the streets, our halls of government, media or social media. Call out bad behavior and reward good behavior. We can’t escape the society we are born into and raised in, but we can determine what kind of society it is by being involved. Oh, and maybe it is time to bring back corporal punishment in Public Schools. Just a thought.