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  • Samantha Rushin

PHS Honors Essay Project: Man’s True Nature

Man’s true nature is altruistic because man cannot interact without cooperation. The nature of altruism can be seen in situations that instincts come into play, whether it be survival or every day. By examining different parts of contrasting interactions, altruism can be interpreted throughout a multitude of ways.

For years the actions of man have shown examples of altruism. There have been many instances of this, but one event with which strongly reflects the truly altruistic nature of mankind is the terrorist attack on September 11th. The article Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic states, “During the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for example, there were no accounts of people being trampled rushing out of the World Trade Center towers; rather, those who needed assistance descending were cared for, and calm mainly prevailed”(Szalavitz). Even in the state of survival, no one took selfish actions. Their instinct to survive, even with the fear of dying, made no one selfish enough to trample each other, in fact the opposite was true. Everyday situations as well prove our innate altruism. The Scientists in the article Scientists Probe Human Nature-- and Discover We Are Good, After All reported 343 participants were tasked to make a decision to give money to someone either quickly or slowly and,

“ --whether people were forced to use intuition (by acting under time constraints) or simply encouraged to do so (through priming), they gave significantly more money to the common good than did participants who relied on reflection.”(Ward)

When given the choice, people gave more money, suggesting, our innate nature is altruistic. This quote proves our second instinct is more selfish when given time to reflect. Along with other people, they all thought collectively towards helping others. These similar results suggest people such as ones in a time crunch, life-threatening situations, or an everyday decision, naturally choose the more altruistic alternative or route. Thus proving the inherent nature of man is altruistic based on their situations.

Altruism can also be examined around birth and is present in young children and toddlers. If such a young child can figure out the basic concept of helping at such an age, then altruism can only be assumed as inherent. According to the article Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic, “Studies of 18 month-old toddlers show they will almost always try to help an adult who is visibly struggling with a task, without being asked to do so...” Having said this, even an infant with no previous morals, can prove true to altruistic actions (Szalavitz). If babies are inherently altruistic, to conclude the results with which man as a whole is altruistic, we must examine human’s interactions also as an adult. A study conducted in the article called Is Human Nature Good or Evil?, reported after planting 17,000 missing wallets across 40 countries, results showed that “72% of people returned the wallets that contain a large sum of money”(Razetti). The acclaimed results point towards cooperation or altruism because in more cases than not people would return the wallet. In both situations considering both young and old, our actions towards others prove altruistic as well.

Considering a popular children’s book as well, Horton Hears a Who!, even then Horton’s motives are unselfish, when he could have easily been selfish. When Horton finds the Whos existence, Whoville is floating helplessly on a spec in the wind. “...Some poor little person who’s shaking with fear/ That he’ll blow in the pool! He has no way to steer!/ I’ll just have to save him. Because, after all/ A person’s a person, no matter how small” (Seuss). Horton deciding even though he doesn’t have to help the Who’s, does out of the kindness of his heart, since he considers Who’s human. Through his journey, many of his friends criticize his choice to save the Who’s, considering they did not believe the Who’s existence until later. Horton protected them to his last breath, even almost getting caged, until the other creatures heard the yells of the Who’s. Horton’s unwillingness to give up on the Who’s of Whoville when no one believed him implies that he is also inherently altruistic.

Man’s nature many believe is inherently selfish, but in Lord of the Flies, the boys were not inherently selfish, it was their environment with which caused their fears and selfish morals to better themselves, therefore forgiving such selfish acts. Lord of the Flies is set on a vast unknown island, the boys are forced into an alien situation compared to their previous living situations. Just as stated in A Game Of Cards, “We know, for example, that the existence of fear and man’s inability to cope with fear bring about the worst in him.” (Cousins) This being said the boys were in fear, in fear of the beastie. On page 202 of Lord of the Flies, “ Ralph wept for the end of their innocence, and the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true…” and the overall scene with the children crying implies once taken out of their state of nature or emergency, they were just kids who lost their innocence and acted out of fear and survival (Golding). This loss of innocence was created because the little boys realized the chaos they invoked and were shameful for their actions. Then having been taken out of the state of survival, wept for what they had done. With their fear they did what they thought was best in their survival situation (such as killing the beast which was Simon) and when they are found, they return to being innocent young boys. This situation much similar to September Eleventh, the environment was responsible for the fear the children were forced to accommodate, therefore they should not be responsible for their actions and can be considered altruistic once taken out of this situation, such as they were at the beginning.

To be altruistic inherently can be seen as processed through certain events. Whether these events take place in survival situations such as Lord of the Flies. After examining the nature of young and old, it is clear through these different interactions, man’s inherent nature is altruistic.

Work Cited

Razetti, Gustavo. “Is the Human Nature Good or Evil? - Gustavo Razzetti.”

Liberationist. 2 Oct 2019. Accessed 21 Oct 2019.

Seuss, Theodore. Horton Hears a Who!. Random House, 1954. Print.

Szalavitz, Maia. “Is Human Nature Fundamentally Selfish or Altruistic?” Time.

Updated 8 Oct. 2012. Accessed 21 October 2019.

Cousins, Norman. “A Game of Cards.” NPR. 4 Apr 2005. Accessed 21 October


Ward, Adrian F. “Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good,

After All.” Scientific American. 20 Nov. 2012. Accessed 22 Oct 2019.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. York Press, 1996. Print.

This is one of 24 essays that will be written by PHS Honors English students in collaboration with The Portland Beacon over the next six months. Ms. Chandra Polasek, PHS Honors English and Drama teacher, will provide the essays on a regular basis to The Beacon. All essays are original work of the students.

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