Deja Vu Post: Are People Only As Nice As They Need To Be To Get What They Want?

4 Dec


Oh, I was dying to just end it there. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? But I guess I should explain what I mean a little more.

It hasn’t been proven, but I believe that people learn to act either dominantly or passively as a response to their environment. You learn your place in society. Can I get stuff by demanding it, by taking it, or by being given it? Whichever one works is the one you stick with.

Were your parents authoritative, and controlling? Then you’ll be one of those “nice” guys. You will do so because you’re neurotic and still unconsciously fearful of repercussions. Did your mother wait on you hand and foot? Then you’ll expect all women to give you things if you demand it. Did you grow up rich and privileged? Then you take what you want from the lesser folks.

This seems logical, but for some reason, most people have a hard time deviating from standard definitions of good and evil. It’s so much easier when people fall into pre-established categories. But people aren’t evil or good by nature. What they are is adaptive. Can I survive by smacking this guy? No. This guy? Yes. The “super-nice” emotional guy might be a doormat to an adult, but a tyrant to his children. These are all learned. There is no choice involved.

What about the guy who feels like beating/molesting a child, and stops himself for no other reason than because God is watching? This man believes he’ll receive a super-smack in the afterlife. Choosing to forgo a bar of delicious chocolate from Chernobyl may be smart, but it’s not righteous.

The one I would call a ‘Tzaddik’, is someone who sees himself as part of a larger body. The deeper theologies, such as Kabbalah, stress this idea. Moshe saw himself as part of Israel, ‘one with nature’, so to speak. When Hashem told him he’ll wipe Israel out, and rebuild with just him, Moshe said no, we are all one, part of each other, part of creation, part of God.

This is a higher level, of course, but is a righteous man on a different plane of existence, acting with some ethereal value like ‘altruism’? I don’t think so. He has so-called ‘Daas Elyon’, elevated understanding. His mind sees the seemingly differentiated parts of the world from a larger perspective. But he still acts kindly because he sees it as helping himself. We are all connected, we are all one, therefore I am you. I will do a Mitzva because I am one with God, I am God.

I’ll point out a practical difference to illustrate my point. If I am a good Christian with Daas Elyon, living in the American South in 1850, I might fight for the rights of every White man, and own Black slaves. That’s because black people are not part of me. They are lower. I may feel that they are deserving of the same respect and good treatment as other animals by being part of the larger circle of life that I am, but they don’t have the ‘human soul’ that makes me see other white men as part of me.

The tzaddik, then, doesn’t operate on a different playing field. He has accepted certain ideas as truths that allow him to play the game differently, relative to how much of these elevated truths he has accepted. I believe the same idea can be applied to God as well. We believe He takes an active role in us because he cares about us. But He cares about us because we are Him.

Note: I originally posted this a while ago (June 5th, to be exact), so it’s a little different in style than what I’d write today, but the topic just came up in the comments on the Two Angels post, and I figured I’d post it again. Also, this was one of my earlier posts, when I didn’t have a lot of readers, so about 10 people total have read this piece on my site. I think I might start reposting some of my earlier posts that I thought were good when I wrote them, but didn’t get many views.


6 Responses to “Deja Vu Post: Are People Only As Nice As They Need To Be To Get What They Want?”

  1. frum single female December 4, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    so true

  2. johnthesavage01 December 4, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    I do agree that many people, as a result of their respective environment and upbringing, fall into certain modes of behavior without realizing it . I might even say its plausible to call these people robots, merely reacting to their surroundings without thinking.

    However, whose to say that individuals who’ve reached a certain mature perspective on life can’t look at themselves and see their actions and responses from an informed and objective viewpoint? Why can’t someone see themselves falling into certain patterns, comprehend the underlining causes of such actions, and consciously respond and alter their behavioral patterns to be more in line with what they believe is a more idealistic mode of living?

    It’s kinda like that Friend’s episode where Phoebe tells Joey that all altruistic deeds are at some basic level selfish. While that may be so, why can’t one be selfish merely to satisfy one’s desire to be altruistic? What’s would be wrong about that? It’s definitely better than your child molester example.

    The second part of your post seemed a bit disconnected from the first. I’m not really sure why I have to see others as a part of myself in order to be altruistic. Certainly a white man living in the 19th century could see his slave as an EQUAL to himself and thus set him free, but why does he have to see his slave as a part of him?

    Love the pic btw. I dunno how you always manage to find such pics full of win..

  3. johnthesavage01 December 4, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Lol. Sorry its the other way around. Joey tells Phoebe there’s no selfless acts.

    • itchemeyer December 5, 2011 at 6:11 am #

      Good clip. I used to love friends back in the day. Yeah, I just admitted that. And thanks, I’m glad you notice the pictures! I search google long time for those 🙂

      -I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. I think it’s possible to work on yourself with honest introspection, and training, or therapy or meditation. It doesn’t go against what I’m saying. You’ve been trained one way, and now you’re trying to train yourself to act another way. It’s going to be hard as hell, but you can make headway.

      -Why would you want to act altruistically if you aren’t? Because it’s a value you think is worthwhile to have. You can act as much as you want, it won’t change who you really are, and it’s going to get really grating after a while. Unless of course you can change the way you think and then the way you feel towards people. Then it will be natural.

      -The second part is a little rushed because I threw it in there to extend my first point. (I think they go together, but it needs more explanation than I gave it.) Anyhow, I think we’re saying the same thing. Why would being equal equate to the guy freeing his slave? Assuming society is against it, the only reason is because A) God is watching and he wants to emulate God/listen to God, or B) he is some sort of super-tzaddik who lives up to his ideals of universal brotherhood even when there’s nothing in it for him. So equal means we’re all in this together, and, following that, society would be better if we lived as equals, and I’m willing to forgo my rights, property, position, money to make that personal ideal happen.

      Logically, that’s the only way I can see this panning out. If you can find me a person who did such a thing, someone with no personal, societal, or otherworldy gain, and did it for another reason, I’d really like to hear it. As it stands though, this is the only rationale I can think of.

  4. Leah December 6, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Yeah, if you see all human behavior as unavoidably contributing to the responsive organism of society (or, analogously, righteous behavior as lifting the community up closer to Hashem), the strict separation between “selfish” and “altruistic” behaviors is pretty irrelevant. It’s more of a sliding scale, and the variable on the selfish end seems to be laziness and a propensity toward short-term gratification.

    So the distinctions you make at the beginning of the post, about people who get along by beating or being beaten… I’m not sure how that fits in, because people can learn to leverage their inherent social traits to their best effect when interacting with others, whether their goals be petty or broadminded. That said, far be it from me to rag on a not perfectly manicured blog post….

    • itchemeyer December 6, 2011 at 1:26 am #

      I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re saying, but my point here is that we all operate with the same motivations, no matter if we act in ways that seem tough, weak, lazy, righteous, etc. These are all superficial labels that describe our learned, adaptive modes of behavior. Underneath we all operate according to the same principals.

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