Human Nature – A Matter of Perception

There are things that interest me to no end which I will never understand. How they are perceived often comes down to “it is the way it is” or “that is what I believe” or “I cannot imagine it any other way.” Since I was small human nature has always interested me. It is part of me, part of everyone else and essential to how one behaves. In this essay I attempt to address human nature.

I use the verb “attempt” as I am no expert. I am just a curious individual who makes choices and goes through life. Even if I would be an expert in something related, calling myself an expert would go too far. To define something that is part of yourself and why you do what you do objectively is impossible. I personally consider the only objective definitions those definitions  that are purely a measurement.

First of all “human nature” is contraction of two words. First there is the adjective “human” which refers to human beings and can be connected to the nature-nurture debate. The nature-nurture debate is centred around whether nature influences you more or whether nurtured culture influences you more. Some people think the two balance each other out. In the social sciences and anthropological studies this debate will always present itself.

The second word of the contraction is “nature” in the context of “that is the nature of …” or more specifically why certain actions lead to certain consequences in a specific (series of) situation(s). Sometimes this word has nothing to do with actual animals, plants and the planet. Sometimes is it possible to say “that is the psyche of the …” to be more behaviour specific and emphasise the relation between action and reaction.

What follows is the perception of “human nature” and how people interpret it. How a person is raised and why a person made certain life choices determines the one’s perspective on human nature. From the angles of religion, philosophy, doctrine, codes of conduct and other cultural phenomena many unique perspective can be derived. In short the life style a person chooses is very influential in this regard.

When it comes to religion the perspective can range between negative and positive. I come from a Christian family where it is fundamentally believed that mankind was born in sin and thus “sinful by nature.” That is a negative perspective and a very old one at that. Do know that Christianity is simply an umbrella term for many kinds of Christian lifestyles, old and new and some Christians do not believe that mankind is by default sinful for Christ already granted forgiveness at the cross.

There are many religions in the world, some are well documented and some have faded away. Some religions have been and still are a force in society and some are now practised by minority groups. In general there are religions with one deity or many deities and there are religions that are more civilisation-oriented versus those that are more nature-oriented. Regarding orientations in civilisation think of the Roman Catholic church in Europe versus the old tribal religions that existed everywhere before.

Philosophy is a factor that is not to be underestimated. Literally “philosophy” means “to love wisdom” which has its roots in Greek philosophy when wisdom was the word for what we call “the sciences” these days. More specifically philosophy can be defined as the system of perception a person can rationally develop to give meaning to the reality of the world. Often this system of perception is a rational construct yet some people build their system of perception on irrationality.

Rational comes from the word “ratio” which literally means reason or reasoning. Irrational is the opposite that case where emotion is leading. All people have some kind of system of perception to process what they perceive. Depending on how that person values one thing over the other he or she may perceive a given situation differently. With regards to human nature this is a big influence. In the best case scenario one’s perception of human nature is more optimistic than pessimistic.

Doctrines are generally speaking the -isms that give people the reason act in a certain way. A doctrine at its core is a set of rules that summarise the principles and logic of a given -ism. Think of mercantilism, capitalism and communism. Every -ism can only be properly defined by looking at its use at a specific date and how a people interpret it for their actions. There is the capitalism of Adam Smith and the the capitalism of Wall Street in 2015. There is the communism of Marx and there is the communism of Lenin in 1917. The -isms and their doctrines are very context-sensitive.

Additionally doctrines can heavily influence how people perceive matters of human nature and what behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable. Sometimes doctrines are absolute and strict. Sometimes doctrines are relative and looser. It all depends on the people who use it, their unique circumstances in time and who leads them. When a doctrine is generally pro-war and pro-violence there is the likelihood that it is very us-versus-them.

Codes of conduct are exactly what they say they are: a code to describe acceptable behaviour. I personally include the code of conduct for I have always been fascinated by war and martial arts. When I practised fencing during my teenage years I learnt many things. Fencing is still a martial art at its core and the weapon is still deadly. The kevlar fabric really saves you from being stabbed. Most importantly in fencing and other traditional martial arts the code of conduct is at the heart of the discipline.

I have also practised Kyokushinkai Karaté and there is no martial art without code of conduct. This code of conduct formulates how one is to behave to be allowed to practise the said martial art. You are equal to your opponent first, superiority is not a matter of being who you are. Mutual respect determines that you are all equals and thus superiority is not present. I consider myself privileged to have had more traditional teachers. In all kinds of organisations codes of conduct are important documents that specify acceptable behaviour and underline principle values.

Other cultural phenomena that are an influence in how human nature is perceived are plentiful. Think of informal rules, etiquette for very specific situations and the foundations of relationships that people value. Informal rules are usually unwritten but agreed upon and confirmed by mutual understanding. Etiquette is very situation specific. In situation A an action is acceptable but in situation B an action is unacceptable. Think business dinner versus dinner with friends and you get the gist. Then there are the foundations of relationships that are a factor.

Relationships are formed based on mutual need or mutual appreciation, sometimes both. When the people in the relationship no longer value their relationship foundations, the relationship starts to crumble. Relationships directly and indirectly influence how you perceive human nature. Often core values and principles are based on relationships with those that are dear to you. 

To conclude I have to admit that there are more things I could have mentioned. I have chosen to limit myself to the things I am confident in stating. More words devoted to the topic of human nature require serious research. The essay is already 1200 plus words and the conclusion has yet to be finished.

To address the topic of human nature is not light work. There is context and there are opinions with specific origins. This essay has been in my head for years. From religion to philosophy to doctrines to codes of conduct to phenomena like informal rules, specific etiquette, and the foundations of relationships there are many perspectives regarding human nature. At most I have scratched the surface of something complex. Thus I end with the simplest statement regarding human nature I can think of right now.

Human nature is what you perceive it to be. Hopefully your perception is one of hope…