Fundamental Decency - Part 1

Freely This week's question comes from a recent series of e-mail conversations.

Question of the Week: 12-19/12-26

"You write quite a bit about the nature of belief. I was speaking to my dad about the subject, and he said that one of his beliefs was that "people are fundamentally decent". I found his belief very difficult to argue with. Could it be that some "beliefs" are "true"?

Thanks for your great question.

Of course you can question the statement, "people are fundamentally decent," but you must be careful in how you approach it. In order to go into it fully, you must also go into the relationship of humanity to itself. Also, you have to see the action of belief.

The Activity of Belief

In belief there is a tightness, a clinging and holding on to something that we think can save us or keep us safe. It is dependent upon what we desire and lust for.

  • I believe in a particular god because of what it can give me (or because I am afraid of not believing),
  • I follow a particular politician or political group because of what they can provide for me,
  • I believe a particular "race" of people are bad because I feel completely safe within my own racial group and do not want to rock the boat,

...and so on.

This activity of belief - this self-centered behavior - is what we question, and not necessarily individual beliefs. There are, after all, millions upon millions of beliefs it seems, and we can question them from here to doomsday with little or no success. So we must go deeper and see these movements in their purest form, if that is the right phrase.

Now, if you look into the world, and you see all of the hate and evil and so on, you might want to think it is not true, and that people are inherently terrible. This is where it may be confusing. The statement people are bad, is a belief. It is based on a selfish story, after all. But the statement people are fundamentally decent, is not a belief, but truth. (although I would probably phrase it differently, it is close enough for our purposes.)

The Truth in Relationship

Human beings are completely dependent upon one another for survival. This is visible everywhere in nature. Even down to the cells in your body. It is all dependent upon relationship. People are fundamentally decent because it can only further the growth of the species. It is true that one can seem to grow through deception, greed, or by simply taking things away from others, but those people can not survive for long. If you look into history you will find it to be repeated over and over again. The selfish always fall, and fall hard.

You might also notice in the past, when humanity was at a height of compassion and giving, it is viewed as a so-called "golden age." These periods of peace, bliss, or whatever you call it never end of their own accord. It is always a force of greed and selfishness that wants to take it all for itself. And eventually, and usually quickly, the force of greed is crushed and disabled from within by its own people, leaving nothing but dust, and stories to frighten children.

Then humanity has to start all over again.

Greed and selfishness may seem to win from time to time, but it cannot thrive.

I say, "people are fundamentally decent" is not a belief, but an actual fact. It can only strengthen the continuation of the species.

"My dad also said that he felt beliefs were necessary, but that they didn't have to be held tightly, and if he encountered a "better" belief he would happily drop an old belief. I am starting to question the whole thing though - if beliefs are so discardable why hold them in the first place? Does the mind need them to function?"

I do not see that belief is necessary, but that does not mean I would ever try and deny the fact that people believe in things. It is a fact that people believe in various whatevers, and if you want to investigate all of this, you begin there.

It is clear that people exchange one belief for another so easily, but is it any different from changing the curtains in a room? The room stays the same, no matter how colorful the new curtains are. This is not to say it is good or bad, or that you should ever feel a need to be free of it. If it happens, never deny it in favor of something else.

You see the fact, ugly or not, and that is the truth that sets one free; not looking for something better.

That is the failing of the searcher. They may see the fact, but they can never stay with it. They always feel the need to create something better, while simultaneously pushing the "bad" away. And it never works.

I think I understand what your dad is saying, and he is not wrong. But I would not describe it as "belief."  Things may seem to change from time to time, and you may even find yourself letting go of things you may have once felt necessary, but that does not mean you are exchanging one belief for another.

Perhaps one may begin to see these things clearly, and in the process, these non-essentials fall away to reveal the necessities. In that case, you start living life for the first time, tabula rasa, and it is not a trade-off or an exchange.

Part 2 will be posted on Monday.