Are people inherently good or evil: an answer

The two of them worked their way up and down the bar behind those sitting. They had walked in with purpose, which in my experience is often not such a great thing. That they marched past several people standing didn’t help, nor that they positioned themselves at the one place in the bar where it was impossible for me to reach them. And then they looked at me as if I was supposed to do something about it.

“Can we?” began the man by leaning right in between a couple having a meal and a conversation.

I tried to wave them to the side of the seated couple, a wave they completely ignored.

“Can we? he continued.

“Do you mind?” asked one of the seated men, his face not 6 inches from the other man’s.

“Yes, do you mind?” asked the seated man’s partner.

I raised my hands in a gesture that indicated, “I warned you.”

The purposeful man harrumphed all the way over to the spot I had originally indicated, only about 2 feet away, but also not between two people talking and eating.

“Can you believe those guys?” he asked.

But I suspected the question was rhetorical, because nobody who asks questions like that really wants the truth.

Recently, I wrote a story about a woman who had asked me if I believed that people were inherently good or evil. I never actually answered her question, much to the chagrin of several readers. So, let me answer now.

I have waited on a lot of people in my 35 years behind the bar. And I have done so in a lot of places under many different conditions. I have thrown sex workers out of dive bars and topped up chardonnay for the likes of Robert Redford. I have also served shots and beers to dock workers and diet coke to Warren Buffet. One thing I have noticed is that there really isn’t much difference between people, no matter their status. The difference isn’t the people, it’s the attitude. And you can usually get a bead on that immediately.

The world is not as binary as people want to make it. It is filled with many different things: choices, cultures, religions, opinions, likes and dislikes. No one person is the arbitrator of taste. No one. Not you, and certainly not me.

The difference is that some people know this and some don’t.

T.S. Eliot once said, “Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

And that inability, or unwillingness, to look at ourselves objectively, is where the problems begin. There’s no shame in asking, “Am I wrong here?” But these days people want to double down on being right.

There’s a freeway onramp near my house. I have used that onramp more than a thousand times. But since the pandemic I have noticed a change. On at least half a dozen occasions another driver has essentially refused to let me merge onto the freeway. It doesn’t matter that the lane is ending, or that I was in front of them or in back. They just refuse to make room. It’s a strange thing to experience. “Where am I going to go?” I want to ask. And it’s dangerous.

I was recently at a supermarket and noticed that a woman had backed out and was heading the wrong way onto a one-way street. I pointed at the sign, waved and then I yelled, because she was heading directly into oncoming traffic. She gave me the finger. And then I heard horns honking and brakes screeching. I bet when she got home, she told her friends and family that some jerks at the supermarket yelled at her and then honked their horns, never once considering that maybe she was the problem.

So, are people inherently good or inherently evil? We are neither. We are always somewhere in between and the minute that we forget that is the minute that we move closer toward that outer edge — not the good one.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• That other person might be annoying you, but is it possible that you are annoying them, too?

• “Life is neither good or evil, but only a place for good and evil,” wrote Marcus Aurelius.

• “I’m sorry, I was wrong,” might be the most powerful thing one can ever say.

• Does anyone have any questions on booze? Please.