We’ve all seen cartoons of the two angels sitting on opposite shoulders of a character: the Light angel of good and righteousness, and the “fallen angel” or devil of temptation and iniquity. I remember as a kid growing up Roman Catholic, the nuns (trying to tip the advantage to the good angels?) told us to make room on our desk seat for our Guardian Angel—not an easy task for the old elementary school desks with really small seats!
But the concept of two angels brings forth some questions for me:
Does Humanity listen more to the Light angel or the fallen angel?
Who/what is Humanity at its core? Inherent goodness? Or inherent . . . not goodness?
Is it inherent or is it something that, in a Free Will reality, we can choose?
In my previous post about anti-racism, “The Time Is NOW”1 I asked:
What kind of a Nation do we want to be?
Now I’m going to take that even further:
Who do we want to be as Human Beings, as Humanity?
My belief as noted in another previous post2:
“Well, call me Pollyanna, but I have always believed in Humanity. That we are inherently good.”
But clearly in everyday life, we’re inundated with the opposite: people acting badly towards other people, other living creatures, and even the planet that sustains us. Currently, we’re being confronted with a huge “fallen angel” legacy that’s been with humanity for a very, very long time: slavery, racism, and “blaming the victim.” Given how long Humanity has allowed this trifecta (in the worst sense) to persist, are we, indeed, inherently cruel and violent?
The cynical view of humans as basically selfish, cruel, greedy, and violent has permeated western culture for centuries. It’s part of our mainstream thinking and is gleefully reinforced and exploited for effect (and profit) in literature, movies, TV shows, and sensationalized news stories.
In its extreme, this cynicism is portrayed in the novel “The Lord of the Flies,” in which author William Golding tells the story of a group of English school boys marooned on an island (I’m not sure I ever read it but I found a great synopsis and fascinating in-depth analysis3). The boys’ initial attempt at imposing civilization and order (electing a leader, building huts, organizing into chore teams) devolves into two opposing “tribes,” mob mentality, torture, and even murder. When rescued, three of them are dead—one of them murdered in a mob frenzy with bare hands and teeth.
It’s easy to go to a place of: Jeez, if left to our own devices, is that who we really are??
I think not.
In contrast to “The Lord of the Flies,” Dutch historian Rutger Bregman found a real-life story from 1965 of six teenage boys from the Pacific nation of Tonga who, bored and seeking adventure, stole a fishing boat, hit a storm, and ended up marooned on a deserted island for 15 months.4 When discovered by Australian adventurer Peter Warner who was sailing around Tonga, the boys had set up a food garden, hollowed out tree trunks to store rainwater, set up a gymnasium of sorts, a badminton court, chicken pens, and a well-tended fire for rescue. To maintain all of that, they organized into teams of two and set up a strict roster for kitchen, garden, and fire-tending duty. They also set up designated times for prayers and singing. If any quarrels occurred, they imposed a “time-out.” When their elected leader fell off a cliff and broke his leg, they worked their way down, helped him back up to the top, set his leg with sticks, and took over his chores while he healed. And his leg healed perfectly.
(Bear in mind, that the article cited above is an excerpt from Bregman’s book, “Humankind—A Hopeful History,” the title of which indicates the writer’s viewpoint. And apparently, Tongans are a close-knit culture that emphasizes building and maintaining community.)
So what do science and research tell us? Well, “Evolutionary Psychologists” posit that we have a “selfish gene” that became ingrained in prehistoric times due to competition for resources.5 The opposite viewpoint (supported by field experiments) says that we are born self-less but have the capacity for both good and bad behavior depending on our life situations and happenings.6 Bregman notes that researchers over the past 20 years have switched to a more positive view of Humanity. But “the field is so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.”
So which viewpoint is correct? Maybe it all comes down to the two angels and which angel we listen to? There’s a Cherokee story about “A Tale of Two Wolves”:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee Brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
So let’s give a push to the positive view of Humanity (and our positive Path) and feed the good wolf . . .
Let’s do “reversals”:
1. Make a list of what you view as Humanity’s/society’s ills–the negative traits, actions, policies, conditions, cultural mores, traditions, etc. Take your time over several days, adding to it as appropriate.
2. Do “reversals.” Take your list and transform it into the reversal of each item. For example:
Greed → Generosity
War → Peace
But don’t get tripped up on wording, for example,
“Hunger” → “everybody has enough to eat”
works just as well as
“Hunger” → “Food security.”
3. Identify the top 5 items that you feel really passionate about—you’ll feel it in your heart, in your gut.
4. Write out/type up/print out your list of 5, adding wording so each reversal is a phrase or short sentence. Like:
“All war ends, and peace prevails.”
“Greed is transformed into generosity.”
5. Post your list someplace prominent.
6. Read your items (even aloud), speaking from your heart, one or more times a day. Maybe add them to your meditation or daily prayers, or pick one as a Mantra.
If you don’t believe in the concept of “Intention,” consider this as prayers. Every time you read your list you’re sending that reversal intention (or prayer) out into the Universe (or up to God). You’re also transforming your own negative emotions of fear, hopelessness, and upset into positive, Light-filled energy. And if you think laughing (and even yawning) are contagious, so also is this positive energy.
BTW—After reading “The Lord of the Flies” as a teenager, Bregman felt “disillusioned afterwards, but not for a second did I think to doubt Golding’s view of human nature.” But years later, Bregman discovered that Golding had been an alcoholic and was prone to depression. And that Golding wrote his book in the 1950s when a generation was questioning its parents about the atrocities of WWII, if they were an anomaly “or is there a Nazi hiding in each of us.”
Bregman also notes that when the marooned South Pacific boys were returned to civilization, they were immediately arrested and thrown in jail on charges pressed by the furious stolen boat owner. (Ooops, some “fallen angel” shenanigans.) But the man who rescued them, Peter Warner, was the heir to a vast corporate media empire for which he managed the corporation’s film rights, including TV. He arranged for the sale of the TV rights to the boys’ story, used the proceeds to replace the stolen boat, and got the boys released. “And they all lived happily ever after.”
Well, not completely. There’s still some controversy around the real-life story, like who owns (and who should tell) indigenous peoples’ stories. But on the other side, Peter resigned his hated corporate job, got a new ship, hired the boys as the crew, and set out in search of fish and adventure. And it turns out that he and one of the boys have been friends for 50+ years.
Yep, I think there are a lot of good, righteous, Light angels out there. And personally, even with some continued violence and the ever-present political tribalism, seeing so many stories of kindness, caring, and sharing throughout the months of the virus and the weeks of protests, I think we’re actually listening to them. A lot.
Let’s choose to listen to our Light angels even more.
BTW2—Not to get TOO serious about this (OK, yes, let’s get serious), I don’t just suggest the above exercise as a casual, interesting thing to do for fun. I actually think that it’s urgent that we begin to examine who Humanity is now, and who we want to be. And to start moving in the positive direction ASAP.
(I include a lot of references in my blogs because the sources have a richness I don’t have the space to delve into in my blog posts. I strongly suggest you check some of them out.)
1 The Time is NOW blog post
2 Practice-ing Oneness blog post
3 The Lord of the Flies (synopsis and analysis) describes the ultra-rich symbolism in the book
4 “The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months” article by Rutger Bregman in “The Guardian,” excerpted from his book “Humankind–A Hopeful History”
5 “An Alternative View of Human Nature” online article by Steve Taylor, Ph.D on the Psychology Today website.
6 “Is the Human Nature Good or Evil?” online article by Gustavo Razzetti