Some things I’ve learned about people…

As a philosopher, in a way I’m trained to think about the broad contours of human nature.  Some basic topics are the relationship between the mind / brain and body, the nature, existence and relationship between humans and God, the nature of what it means to “know” something and (my area), how we should treat one another.  Central to these questions is the question of human nature.  An ethical theory that expects humans to defy human nature isn’t realistic etc.

I’ve also taught college for 11 years (yikes, a long time, eh?).  I’ve probably had 5,000 students in that time — each one of them a person.  I have nearly 500 facebook “friends” and many friends who aren’t on facebook.  I also read lots of blogs — some for a very long time — so it seems to me that I have a pretty good basis for writing about human nature from both a practical and theoretical perspective… so, here goes —

  • Generally, people don’t intend to do wrong things.  Sure, people do bad stuff all the time — but, for some reason they think it’s the best course of action.  When it’s seen as wrong, it’s generally because society doesn’t agree with the reasoning behind the act.  It can also be that there’s a mis-communication between people –(more on that later) — which leads to one person not understanding what the other is saying or doing and having their expectations violated.
  • Generally, people are good.  Just today I saw two cars on the side of the road attempting to catch a dog running down the highway.  I’d have stopped too, but they acted before I could and I was glad to see it happen right in front of me.  This week I had a wonderful student volunteer to tutor some of my logic students.  She wants to help, she enjoys the topic and because of a FAFSA issue she can’t get paid for it — so she said she’d do it for free.  I witness acts of generosity like this on a daily basis and it makes me think that people are good.
  • If you listen to them, people will tell you who they are.  They may say it in actions or in words, but for the most part a person’s character is difficult to miss — if you’re paying attention.  Small actions or gestures on a consistent basis tell you how a person feels about you.  Other people will do it with words, but if their actions don’t back them up, you should be suspicious.  If you ignore the signs and signals, you have only yourself to blame.
  • Everyone sees the world through their own point of view, you can’t help it.  In a way, a point of view is like a camera lens, you can have a wide angle, a zoom or a fisheye — and if you know what you’re using then you’ll understand your own limitations.  Some folks have funky colored filters, cracks in their lenses or other stuff that would make my photographer nuts while others think that everyone’s lens is just like their own.  Both of these spell trouble and often folks with these limitations are frustrated when others don’t do as they expect.
  • People are gonna do what they want to do.  They’ll spend their time how they’d like to, doing the things they want to do.  Sure, we all spend time doing what we think we must do — but, ultimately we have free will and make decisions on our own.  Other folks can be an inspiration or a limitation — but only if you let them.  Ultimately, you do what you want to do — be it work 70 hours a week, live in a van down by the river, take photos with your BFF or teach philosophy.  If you really don’t want to do it — you still do it for a while until you can figure out how to not do it anymore… whatever “it” is.
  • People spend time with the people they want to be with.  Many people don’t want to — or don’t have — someone to share their lives.  Others have a wide group of friends who are more like family than friends while still others spend most of their time with their biological relatives.  The reason we make these choices is complicated, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that the people around us help us to figure out who we are.  I have several close friends who serve as my “reality” checks.  They see patterns in my behavior or relationships that I don’t see — and I do the same for them.  I find myself spending time with the people who share my beliefs and values, with whom I have common interests and who support my endeavors even when they don’t necessarily understand them.  These people make my life better and without them, I’d be quite different.
  • Everyone has problems or challenges.  Sometimes they’re more visible than others.  Three years ago this month (Breast Cancer Awareness month), I was bald and in chemo.  I had visible evidence that I was sick and people treated me accordingly.  What I learned from that is that other folks have problems and challenges too — but, that often we can’t see them and they often don’t share them as easily as I share the fact that my left boob is fake.  In the end, I realized that I appreciated people treating me with kindness and that I should try to treat others with the same kind of kindness because I can’t know for sure that they don’t have some kind of problem I can’t see.
So — in 42 years, this seems to sum up what I know— in addition to the fact that people will always surprise me and sometimes I just don’t like someone… duh…
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