It is our psychic needs and the feelings that accompany them that are at the root of human nature. (Mary E Clark)
My Gran is old and frail. For 90 years she has been tough and fiercely independent but today she finds herself in an old people’s hostel. She eats what she is fed, goes to bed and rises according to the routines of the institution and occasionally needs assistance to bathe and dress herself. Despite the pleasant and caring hostel environment, this has not been a happy or easy time for Gran, so her extended family makes the effort to support her as best we can. We visit Gran daily, provide her with little luxuries, and bust her out for a visit to the hairdresser or cafe.
Taking care of Gran in the midst of all our other responsibilities can be quite an effort. And yet we do it. I think it is a normal human activity to look after the elderly as best we can. If you disagree, think of the deep emotions – sadness and outrage – expressed by the community when elder neglect and abuse is reported. However, looking after the frail elderly contradicts accepted understandings of human nature as expressed by Richard Dawkins that is, that human nature is essentially selfish, that we are motivated to act only to further our own interests, to ensure the survival of our offspring at the expense of others. Our behaviour makes no sense according to the selfish gene.
So, are we human beings intrinsically selfish, competitive and even violent? Mary Clark argues no. We are in all likelihood evolved with more capacity for kindness, cooperation and reconciliation than for aggression. There is much hope for those interested in nonviolence in her book: In search of human nature.