Human nature: an uncomfortable truth

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An Airman assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, holds up a section of an American flag on the football field of Sam Boyd Stadium at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Oct. 7, 2017. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kevin Tanenbaum.

I have recently become a fan of a clinical psychologist by the name of Jordan Peterson. In one YouTube video Dr. Peterson quotes Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “[t]he line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either ― but right through every human heart.” This quote immediately came to mind when my roommate told me about the tragic happenings in Las Vegas.

It would be too easy to say that this one man — man, not monster — is evil and that we good people can stop future acts of violence, though this reaction is certainly a reasonable one. I think the challenge found within shootings is that they do not hinge entirely upon legislating gun control or starting up campaigns for helping mental illness. All those may be fruitful, but the central issue within each act of violence is one that the human race doesn’t like to look at. At the heart of every act is one that’s hard to clean up: the problem of evil.

The thing you can do to prevent future acts of violence is to acknowledge that you are a potential perpetrator of great evil and that you have just as much ability to commit evil. How can this be the case? It is because you and he — and even I — share the same human nature.

It’s not that hard to come to a place like the shooter did.What it takes to commit a genocidal act is perhaps a few people refusing to hear what you care about, a couple more not caring about your pain, and a few thoughts of doubt about whether people are really good.

Little moments like these occurring a dozen times a day over the course of years can prime a person for the temptation of violence. It is simply the case that for some people their experience has brought them to a place in which “they are so disgusted with human limitation that they would rather eradicate it,” as Peterson says.

One generally cannot know if a person is about to do something malevolent, and so the call before us is one that is more challenging than Facebook filters and hashtag “I-AM-LAS-VEGAS.” We are now called even more so to polish ourselves up, because every change outside begins within.

What does this look like day to day? Perhaps it means being a bit more patient in the sandwich line. Maybe it suggests considering how hard others work to take care of us. Perhaps we are asked not to say things we don’t mean, and not to call friends rude words when we actually love them dearly. Perhaps we are being asked to hear each other laugh as opposed to listening to a song we have already heard. The braver among us might offer up a morning without coffee for a hurting friend. Whatever the instance, if we decide to help ourselves inside, then our interactions will perhaps stifle some of the sadness within another person who may be on the cusp of losing hope in people.

Isn’t that a thought, that you can be someone’s savior through just asking how their day is going!

The acknowledgement I propose is not comfortable. But alas, there is no easy way out to combatting evil. It takes grit to be conduits for Christ’s love. In this struggle of humanity, we can be certain of at least one thing: when a ship changes its course by just a few degrees, it will arrive in a different place. As University of Dallas students, let us throw off the ropes and set sail toward a new Eden.

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