The true nature of man is selfish, due to natural survival instincts and the subconscious choice to act in the best interest of the individual. Humans are complex and have several different characteristics shaping their life. We must understand the core functions of our brain to have a better concept of why man behaves in a specific way.
To first look at where our true nature comes from, we must start at the beginning. Our purest state of being is in the infant stage of life. “Babies are born with the ability to cry, which is how they communicate… baby's cries generally tell you that something is wrong” (Communication and Your Newborn). Infants are born without awareness of actions, or behavior. They are constantly in survival mode. They act only for themselves. Understanding child development gives insight into our true nature because infants can be studied, and observed to find common traits that appear in their behavior. It is beneficial for babies to cry to demand the care they need. They would not survive if they did not communicate, and the only way they know how is to cry. Babies are selfish when they cry because they are trying to get across their desires without regard to others around them. Some may argue babies are the most selfless. However, experts have done studies on the brain development of infants. They concluded that “fairness and altruism may not emerge until early to mid-childhood,” (Schmidt) and prove not all infants are born with selfless qualities. Babies are trying to learn, and develop. They see what their parents do, and mimic them or other people they interact with. This is more along the lines of nurture and not our natural behavior. How we are raised does impact us tremendously, but it is not our true nature. We can learn information over time, but babies did not teach themselves or learn to cry to acquire necessities they need to survive, such as food and water. This was a natural trait - an instinct they already had, verifying our true nature is selfish.
Furthermore, we need to have an understanding of how our subconscious mind works. Sigmund Freud was one of the founders of the study of human nature. He was an Australian neurologist who figured out different parts of the human brain carry out different functions. His three main parts include the id, ego, and superego. An article reviewing his work and breaking down Freud’s thoughts says“The id remains infantile in its function throughout a person's life…and is selfish and wishful in nature.” (Mcleod). There are many parts of our brains we don’t have control over - it has been passed down through our history. We unconsciously decide to do activities we desire and try to accomplish the goals we have in the back of our minds. It is good to be selfish and knowing humans have this unavoidable trait gives us the reasoning behind why we seek our education, why we go out to find a better paying job, or why we enjoy doing what we are passionate about. Some argue we as humans want to do what benefits the group, and stray away from selfish decisions. This is not the case. With most good deeds, there is a returned benefit to the person performing selfless acts. Many experts say selfless activities “...result from the acquisition of a regularly rewarded trait,”(Ward). People will choose to benefit the group if it also benefits themselves. If the choice negatively impacts the decision-maker, they will steer away so it does not harm them. People tend to want to work together as a society, but we must be aware of selfish tendencies and how they will account for a greater portion of our choices. Knowing this helps us understand we cannot escape our birth-given quality.
Lord of The Flies by William Golding is a great novel demonstrating man’s selfish desires. It is a story about a group of boys stranded on an island. At first, they tried working together with the skills they’d learned back home. It did not take long for them to start to lose sight of their responsibilities and act on impulse. Ralph says to Jack in chapter four “... ‘you can’t even build huts - then you go off hunting and let out the fire’” (Golding 71). Jack desired to hunt and the id side of his mind had more control in his choice to leave the fire unattended. The boys were thrown into a survival type situation, which is not what they are used to. They had to fend for themselves, or in other words, act in the best interest of themselves. They were brought back to their true nature, similarly to being an infant once again, and further proves man cannot rid themselves of this inherent trait. Another example in Lord of The Flies is when Jack splits off from the group. On page 127, Jack irritatedly says “‘I’m not going to play any longer. Not with you’” (Golding). He was upset none of the other boys wanted him to be in charge, and he wanted it his way. Later, on page 131, Piggy says “‘I expect they’ve gone. I expect they won’t play either’” (Golding). Now, most of the other boys have disappeared to join Jack as well. They were tired of being told what to do and wanted to do their own activities. Jack was selfish in wanting to be the one in charge. He felt he had more skills than Ralph. This proves underneath society’s cooperation and selfless acts, humans are still selfish. We have roots we cannot escape.
There is still a vast amount of knowledge we must learn about our species. Humans constantly change and improve their characteristics and traits. It is important to not forget about the traits we cannot change - the true nature of our existence. Since the beginning, humans found ways to gather what they needed and strive every day, no matter what circumstance they are in, to do what is in their best interest. Humans must use this as an advantage to further their understanding of what it means to be a part of mankind.
“Communication and Your Newborn (for Parents). ” Edited by Mary L. Gavin,
KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, June 2019,
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Spark Publishing, 2014.
Mcleod, Saul . “Id, Ego and Superego.” Id Ego Superego | Simply Psychology,
Simply Psychology, 5 Feb. 2017, www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html.
Schmidt, Marco F. H ., and Jessica A. Sommerville. “Fairness Expectations and
Altruistic Sharing in 15-Month-Old Human Infants.” PLOS ONE, Public Library
of Science, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0023223.
Ward, Adrian F.  “Scientists Probe Human Nature--and Discover We Are Good,
After All.” Scientific American, 20 Nov. 2012,
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.