True Nature

Delta Winds cover 2001Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


True Nature

Dung Nguyen

In Greek mythology, Cecrops was the legendary king of Athens whom Poseidon condemned to be forever lost at sea. Since Cecrops was unable to undo the curse, Athena offered him immortality and a form of hope -- hope that someday love would redeem and set Cecrops free. A powerful curse could only be broken by the power of love. After wasting nearly three hundred years trying to find someone who could love him, Cecrops finally realized it was his love for others that set him free. He thought the curse could be broken only by someone loving him, not that it necessitated his own actions to benefit and care for others. Cecrops' example is testament to the nature of humans as a whole. Humans tend to be selfish, uncaring, and petty when their own needs are weighed against the needs of others. Even when humans are not faced with such monumental decisions as whether to save a stranger or their dearest loved one, they still often act in a petty, selfish manner. They give nothing more than required and ask much in return. This uncaring nature drives much of the pessimism of the world and keeps people from feeling a deep bond with each other.

Most people do not make any effort to be unselfish, generous, or caring. Of course, people try to be polite, pleasant, and friendly in public situations; but when tested, most act without much thoughtfulness or consideration. The story of Cecrops tells much of how humans think of themselves first and place "little stock in the plight" of others. Because mythology came from the minds of humans, many of the stories possess strong elements of human characteristics, especially their faults. Indeed, mythology represents much of human behavior because humans created mythology and its gods in their own likeness.

Another mythological figure who mirrors human nature is Demeter. Being the goddess of the harvest, Demeter possessed control over all the earth's crops. After her daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, she withheld all the food that was grown from the ground. People all across the world were ravaged by famine. Great tragedy spread across every nation. With no harvest, families starved and begged for food. Many died with no mercy from Demeter. She thought only of the loss of her daughter and cared not for the millions dying across the world. It was not until a compromise was reached between Demeter and Hades on the final custody of her daughter that she allowed a harvest and agreed to let plants grow for six months out of the year. Demeter's example shows how selfish and uncaring one can be in the face of other's extraordinary suffering. And Greek mythology is a valid place to look for examples to show human selfishness, because mythologies were made as a reflection of society.

On a less grand level, consider the case of shopping at a supermarket. Often I have encountered the following situation: just needing to buy a gallon of milk, I find myself behind someone who has a grocery cart full of food. I look at him and we make eye contact. He sees that I am only carrying one container of milk, yet makes no effort to let me in front of him. Is he in a hurry? Possibly, yet most likely he is simply acting in a selfish way, placing his own needs over my own. It would be a minor inconvenience to let me go first, yet his pettiness prevents such a decision. For such a small sacrifice, his desires appear to be superior to any needs I have.

The selfishness of people is also apparent in the act of a greeting. When you say hi to someone and they respond, "Hi, how are you?" do they actually want to know how you are? Many times I have tried to tell a friend how I was truly feeling. "Well, not so good. I feel kinda sick today and I'm having problems with my boyfriend. I am so worried about my classes and have a ton of things to do." Usually this type of statement receives an "Oh, really?" type of response and a continual decrease in interest as the conversation progresses. Some people do want to know how you are doing, but more people would rather tell you their own problems than try to sympathize with the reality of your life.

Even the current type of therapy given at group counseling belies the selfish, uncaring type of beliefs humans have grown to hold. People are told to "love themselves" before others can love them. What does this tell us? It simply states how selfish and petty we have become as a society. Instead of trying to make people love others first, and then hope for love in return, we need to focus on the care of ourselves. The concept of loving others before they decide to love us is not a part of our thought processes. Rather, we believe in the selfish idea of taking care of ourselves first and leaving others out of the equation. We would do anything to avoid our responsibility to our neighbor, provided it is not obvious that we are selfish and uncaring. Politeness must be shown in public and common courtesy overrides our own personal wishes, simply because our petty natures desire to keep up appearances in front of others. Public image and selfish, petty feelings usually motivate even politeness and courtesy that we think are genuine.

The true nature of humans is perhaps beyond the scope of understanding. Yet, it is obvious that we act in a selfish, petty, uncaring fashion whenever our desires are placed against the needs of others. From the supermarket to the great works of literature and mythology, we see the selfish nature of man surface and dominate the landscape. All of this is a mirror of society, a mark to see where we are as people, and the mirror reflects the ugly truth: people are selfish; they might hide the selfishness in public, but their true nature is evident. The result is an accepted principle that is implicitly taught in our society -- the self comes first and rules our actions.