As part of a race who has caused more grief and destruction in their bid for power than any other on this earth, I have often wondered if all people are just bad. I mean look at the number of wars we started, the number of species we drove to extinction, the complete disregard for the environment and future generations! We must be horrible right? On the other hand, I’ve witnessed acts of kindness and compassion towards others that would render anyone speechless. So which is it? Are we good or are we bad?
According to the evolutionary approach, aggression is innate. We are genetically programed to protect ourselves and our own and we wouldn’t have any problems hurting others in the process. But do we really go around muscling our way through life? Probably not. The reason why our civilization works is because we help each other. According to evolutionary psychology, people who helped each other were more likely to survive long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes via natural selection. But that would mean that everyone is helpful, which is not the case. So why do people not help? According to the social exchange theory, when helping someone is at the expense of yourself, you’ll decide against helping. Also, if you don’t empathise with whoever needs help, you’ll be less likely to help them. Helping is also pretty complicated. You need to notice a situation, interpret it as an emergency, assume responsibility, know how to help and go for it. Most of the time these conditions aren’t all met. Also, when you’re surrounded by lots of people, the bystander effect is likely to take place and diffusion of responsibility occurs, so nobody ends up helping.
Altruism is defined as the desire to help another even if it involves a cost to the helper. Studies have also suggested the existence of an ‘altruistic personality’. But I believe in neither. I think people help each other when it’s in their benefit to do so, and hurt each other when it’s in their benefit to do so. You might think someone’s an angel and always helpful, but maybe it just so happens that all the situations they were placed in brought out the helpful side in them. People are neither bad nor good. People are driven.