Commentary byLt. Col. Daniel B. McGibney
50th Network Operations Group deputy commander
Once again, a tragedy has reminded us of how precious life is. As we saw the shocking scenes of the bombings on Patriot’s Day at the Boston Marathon unfold, several questions were posed and are still being debated regarding why bad things happen and the nature of humankind. This philosophical debate has been around for centuries and was even pondered by the great philosopher Aristotle who is attributed to saying, “Evil brings men together.”
Some of these basic questions about human nature try to lump us into the two polar categories to determine if we are inherently good or evil. Others think a series of simple hypothetical questions will reveal the inner nature of mankind, but another approach to answer this question is being studied by researchers at several institutions with initially surprising results. These studies suggest that acute stress may actually promote supportive, friendly and approachable behaviors. This goes against common beliefs that stress leads to ornery, irritable and aggressive acts.
There are several recent stressful events to draw from to help prove that when a crisis strikes, humans rise to the occasion and showcase their fundamentally good nature. Think back to the outpouring of donations and supportive messages from around the world during the recent natural disasters ranging from tsunamis to hurricanes. Instead of retreating into chaos and anarchy, the inherent qualities of goodness were on display and onlookers could see that people were openly exhibiting increased consideration and understanding, being more sensitive to each other’s needs and milder in their interactions with others than normal.
In spite of what happened along the route of the last push to the finish line, marathoners kept running until they reached the nearest hospital to donate blood and check on their friends and family. As incredible as these acts were, the truly good nature and behaviors did not stop there. Local residents and businesses took in displaced runners and offered assistance as everyone thought about others first. Aristotle was proven correct; an evil act brought us closer together and we saw the real and good human nature.
Think back to the news clips and broadcasts. What do you remember? I recall several volunteers and bystanders running toward the crisis putting their wellbeing aside to respond and show compassion and aid during this stress-filled crisis. Goodness and concern for their fellow man compelled them to run toward the detonation, not away from it. This demonstrates what the research and our own observations are documenting; when put to a real-world test, humans will show they are innately good.
While I hope and pray next year’s Boston Marathon occurs without incident or crisis, I also look forward to continue seeing good things and actions come from this bad act. It has already brought us stories of human triumph, the will to overcome adversity and setbacks, and not letting one event define the victims of the bomb blast or the community where the bombers chose to unleash their evil behavior.
Katherine Switzer became the first female to race in the Boston Marathon in 1967 and knows a few things about overcoming forms of evil, adversity and discrimination, and where to look when needing to renew one’s hope in mankind. I found her timely and powerful quote, which now has an even more profound and metaphysical message, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”