In a recently watched TV show a man and boy were fishing. The boy asks the man why the fish pull so hard against the line when it just digs the hook in deeper. The man’s reply: “Because they’re fish.” Fish do not have a choice when hooked. They strive with all their might to get away, not knowing, of course, that their instinctual efforts are sealing their fate.
One of the differences between human beings and fish: we can make choices. Professors of human behavior debate whether human beings have instincts or not . . . which depends, of course, on one’s definition of instinct. But the fact is that to whatever degree “programming” might be built into the human psyche, our brains have developed such that we can make choices that fish or dragonflies cannot.
I’m going to lay my theological/philosophical cards face up. By a process open to interpretation, human beings developed such that several traits are inherently part of our DNA. One, we are social beings that have a felt need to be with others. Two, while self-interest is a given, people have a foundational caring concern for others. We seek personal well-being, but we also wish the same for others.
There are countless examples of individuals whose behavior contradicts an apparent consideration for anyone but themselves, and the factors that lead to this mindset are grist for a team of psychoanalysts. But I believe that destructive self-interest is a perversion of the intrinsic human inclination to value and promote the welfare of others.
We are not fish. We can make constructive choices. We can choose to be self-serving to the detriment of others or we can choose to genuinely care for and contribute to the welfare of all people. Models of the latter are copious: Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And all can add family members or friends who have loved and sacrificed for us.
Centuries ago a man said: “There is set before us life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” The decision is there to make. We are not fish.