Thoughts and Reflections 1: Differences between People? No, thanks.
The most prominent scene of the movie My name is Khan for me is the one in which the mother tells her son that there are two types of people in the world: good people and bad people. It was referring to the distinctions people make based on religious affiliation: you are good even if you are the cruelest person in the world, on the condition that you belong to the same religion as me. But the reality is, according to this quote, that there are good people in any religion or society and any distinction within humans is purely based on the goodness of your heart.
And I have believed this ever since, but I also started having a slightly different interpretation of it later. An interpretation that builds up on the main idea in the quote.
Before I start explaining my understanding, though, let me note that my discussion of this quote will not focus on religious aspect. Rather, it will apply to a broader set of criteria people use to emphasize differences while ignoring similarities. This could be religion, nation, race, gender, age and countless other things. This is, in essence, what the quote intended to do as well. Please also note that I do not believe that religion, or any spiritual practice for that matter, is bad intrinsically; just like belonging to a nation, race or gender is not. They all address different humans needs.
Starting off, when I first heard that sentence in the movie, it felt like I had found the healing philosophy for the ever-continuing distinctions people were making to emphasize differences among each other. I was very tired of it at the time, and I was looking for some solution. It also came at a time when I had started seeing how similar everyone around me was, despite external differences. So, it had come just at the right time. It was confirming the shift in my thinking. Humans were not so complicated after all. They were either good or bad. This minimized all the other things we used to differentiate ourselves to just one criterion: goodness of your heart. This gave me a big sense of unity.
But then, it started occurring to me that maybe we do not even have that one distinction. No one is good all the time and no one is bad all the time. Everyone has good and bad actions, with some people inclining more towards bad actions and others more towards good actions.
That made me think about when and why we do bad things, because I was and am of the opinion that the default human nature is good. What makes us diverge from that good nature? That was the question I wanted to have an answer to.
Then came the realization that people who do bad things (which refers to, well, all of us) were not always doing them because they want to torture or just because they want to be bad. Many times, they behave as such because they do not know how else to handle situations. So, they are not literally diverging from their good nature. They are just finding immediate solutions for their problems so they can survive. They are bound and drowned by their many problems, which leads them to cover up for those problems with bad actions temporarily. In those situations, bad behavior is a reflection of helplessness rather than show-off for power or pure evilness.
So, how does this apply in life?
Let’s say your friend always gets angry at everything and shouts all the time. For example, s/he gets angry whenever something differently than they imagined and they start yelling at everyone around them. What do we usually do? We either shout back or just cut ties with that person because that much anger shows some kind of bad nature. What else can we do? We can think that anger is usually a reaction to things that we cannot solve internally. So, we try to ignore those issues by showing extreme reaction via anger.
Or let’s say you have a friend who lies to you often. We can jump to the conclusion that that friend is not a good person because lying is not good. What else can we do? We can also try to understand why s/he might be lying. Oftentimes, lying is a way for people to get away from problems they cannot solve or face. Because they cannot solve these issues, they try to ‘cover up’ for them by lying so the problem can be buried deep-down and will not be visible to them.
In either case, changing our perspective on ‘bad behavior’ will show us that what we think of as ‘bad behavior’ is not that simple. It hides so many complications under it. The major take-away from this is that labeling people as ‘bad’ is not that easy.
Upon coming to this conclusion, the one last criterion I had to differentiate people was gone. Therefore, now, I believe that we all are equally good. We just differ in how well we become in facing our problems more in depth rather than resorting to temporary solutions. And that is a gradual difference, not a categorical one. So, it is extremely difficult to draw lines between people.
Once we can adopt this view, the next step is to step in and help people address their problems (and we should also address our own problems, first of all). That is a whole different side of the story and I will not get into it here.
Now, all I said so far mainly applies to our daily interactions, friend-to-friend or within-family interactions. But I will draw my line when we look into broad and systematic torture. For me, that is bad, without a question. Though people who show this kind of tendency might also be reflecting their internal problems that way, humans also have free will (After all, there are many other people who had similar problems but did not end up oppressing others). So, when the bad behavior becomes intentionally bad and turns into a tool to oppress people, people who do these are the real bad people. But this is not what I intended to focus on here.
My conclusion then is that all people, regardless of religion, race, gender etc., display some bad behaviors. But these behaviors crucially do not define us. They are just passing human system failures that need to be fixed so we can get closer to our good nature.