Yesterday afternoon I was enjoying a bike ride along the side of the road when a passerby in a truck decided he had a message for me. “Faggot!” he screamed as he roared past. I was of course jolted out of my revelry, nearly crashing the bike. Why did this gentlemen decide it would be a good idea to hurl obscenities’ at a complete stranger who was minding his own business? Did he not care that surprising someone like that could cause them to lose control and crash, possibly being severely injured or even killed? Did he somehow think, despite not knowing me, that I was indeed a “faggot” (whatever that is) and that I needed to be reminded of that, no matter what. No, he did it because he is human. And humans are capable of making really poor decisions.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens at least a couple of times a year. In fact, I told my dad about the event afterwards and was joking that it was the time of year that the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the assholes are….
It got me thinking…we humans can be incredibly compassionate creatures. We can band together and do beautiful things. Or….we can be real turds. As I mulled over the incident, two of the worst of the human traits were revealed to me. First, the one that enabled the man to do what he did: recklessly put my life in danger. The second of the worst human traits was exposed by my initial reaction to his actions. To retaliate through violence. An action that would have been just as reckless, and would have served only to escalate the potential for harm, injury, or worse to both of us. I’ll start with my reaction to the man’s actions.
Violence is ingrained in us humans. After the initial shock of what the man had said had passed, the actions I envisioned taking in retaliation are testament to that fact. My first reaction was to chase the man down and frankly drag him out of his truck and “administer justice”. Of course my ability to reason quickly dismissed the idea as folly. I would endanger the health and safety of that man obviously but also myself, and perhaps others; and for what? Its not my place to punish the man and it would be irresponsible to do something as foolish. Still, I enjoyed toying with the idea long after making the conscious decision against taking action. This highlights us humans love for power and control. Control that is leveraged through aggression and violence.
It seems likely that our reflexive tendency towards aggression has evolutionary origins. Designed to keep us safe and secure against a wild and dangerous world. Eons later, even today, we enjoy violence in movies and relish it in sports. That’s just who we are as humans, there’s no denying it. Our aggressive and violent tendencies likely contributed to our success as a species. But unfortunately, we often fail to keep violence on the playing field where it belongs. Through history we humans have regularly violently imposed our wills on one another through intense brutality…causing untold misery. That’s why our violent tendencies don’t really make sense in the context of the societies we have built. Today, (as unrealistic as it is) we would all be better off if we could just do away with them.
That’s not to say that the man doesn’t deserve to be punished for his foolish actions. Whether he realized it or not, what he did was criminal. I could have been killed. For displaying such reckless carelessness he absolutely deserves to face justice. The unfortunate reality is that he won’t. Tempting as it was at the time, it would have been a poor decision on my part to try to take justice into my own hands. Nothing good really would come of that. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t let him know exactly what I think of his actions, given the opportunity.
Selfishness. When that man decided to shout obscenities’ at me he made an extremely selfish decision for several reasons. Perhaps he was angry that he was so “inconvenienced” by my presence on the road? That would be extremely selfish thinking. It’s not his road. Did he think I was doing something wrong? I was doing nothing illegal. I was over as far as I could safely get on a narrow section of road with a loose shoulder. I was riding predictable and straight and the situation wasn’t overly unsafe. That is, until he ironically created an unsafe situation by surprising me, causing me to jerk the handle bars, nearly losing control. Was he trying to cause me to crash and get injured because that would somehow make him feel better? That’s extremely selfish (and sad frankly).
Selfishness is at the root of all kinds of problems in society from stealing to infidelity to….more violence. Our human tendencies for violence along with selfishness are primary catalysts for the ultimate human failing: War. War, often initiated by a few (usually old and white) people who condemn thousands, hundreds of thousands (or more) to pay the price. Meanwhile, they are at virtually no risk of personally experiencing the grievous atrocities they are responsible for. Instead, they stand to gain from it. Imagine how much better the world would be if we humans could just learn to do away with our violent and selfish natures!
I’ll have to write a follow-on blog post about us humans good qualities (there are many to be sure) to offset the ugly of this post. But for now, feel free to sound off on what you think the worst of our human traits are in the comments section below!