dear miss n. thrope:

i had a conversation last week about misanthropy that has resonated with me. a handful of my dearest friends voluntarily describe themselves as misanthropes, but i must admit that i don’t necessarily buy into their seemingly candid self-analysis. this is not due to a distrust of my friends’ judgement or awareness of themselves, but rather, the fact that the contrary is evidenced by their behavior… as well as their apparent tolerance of mine. i would call myself an anti-misanthrope. pollyannaish? no. panglossian? no. optimistic? not exactly. my standpoint is misunderstood so frequently that i feel the need to indulge myself…

Misanthropy is a general dislike, distrust, or hatred of the human species, or a
disposition to dislike and/or distrust other people. The term is also applicable to those who self-exile themselves or become loners because of the aforementioned feelings. The word comes from the Greek words for “hatred” and “man, human being”. A misanthrope or misanthropist is a person who dislikes or distrusts humanity as a general rule.

so, i can read this definition and understand it. but the question that springs to my mind is ‘why?’ ultimately, the active and deliberate abhorrence of humanity seems like a terrible waste of energy. however, to take it one step further, it implies judgement. one may infer that in order to cast a definitive and condemning judgement on humanity, one must place him or herself in a position of opposition. and who really has the perspective to fairly do so? who really has the right? is this arrogance in the supreme?

we don’t really need to reiterate the atrocities perpetrated by the human race, nor the terrible situations that occur daily…in our homes, our classrooms, our offices, or on the street outside. we don’t really need the evening news to drive home the point that we’re typically more interested in hearing about the armed robbery that occurred than the random act of kindness that saved someone’s life. obviously, a misanthropic attitude is easily perpetuated.

but to me, there’s a distinction that must be made between a condemnation of human nature and the recognition of humanity’s potential and its capabilities- both good and bad. i do not condone the optimistic dismissal of our faults and negative tendencies, but i would prefer to live in a world in which they were not accepted as the status quo. i have seen, experienced, and learned enough about the reality of the world to know i would rather embrace the positive characteristics we possess as a species.

broadly speaking, in embracing a misanthropic attitude, what reason do we ultimately have to care about anyone? if we are all varying degrees of miserable, what motivation exists for us to strive towards something better? and where is our inspiration? indeed, we would be fighting NATURE. (involving religion inevitably complicates the issue, but this strikes me as an infuriatingly augustinian ethos. it is interesting that among my ‘misanthropic’ friends, i know only one who actively prescribes to the christian faith. so, if not saved through god’s grace from a sinful predisposition, then by who? or what?)

furthermore, if we accept that we are all burdened with a flawed nature, where does that leave us as individuals? if not in an opposing position of judgement, where does the lone misanthrope fit into the picture? how does the individual escape the curse? and if they do not, what renders them capable of rationally judging humanity as a whole, since he or she is included within that whole? as a result, this seems to be a ridiculously solipsistic philosophy. (of course, i suppose the reverse may also be true.) yet, the point is that we suddenly find ourselves trapped within a self-perpetuated, incentive-less hell.

following this line of reasoning, the misanthropic attitude undermines our respect for the human condition. this, to me, is key. if our empathy for others is tempered by our distrust, how does that affect our own behavior? under extreme circumstances, how much easier is it to pull a trigger? to cheat on your taxes? to lie to your spouse? how can the distrusting be trustworthy? and vice versa. again, it’s self-perpetuating…until it spirals out of control. and then, with this denigration of humanity, why must we ask how we’ve been conditioned to value the morbid and sensational over what we dismiss as hallmark sentimentality, the earnest? we are like the romans at the coliseum… and who can blame the religious fanatics for their frantic search for a savior.

to put it simply, i think that’s a pretty miserable idea. (and the more i think about these things, the more i sheepishly realize that i am only scratching the surface of any meaningful discussion on the subject.) i suppose that i am some breed of humanist (albeit in my limited comprehension of the term). i’d like to think i possess a respect for the human condition in its breadth: our triumphs, as well as our failings. but more importantly, i have FAITH in humanity, though not necessarily with any certainty or expectation that it is on the right course. above all, i have faith in the ACT of hoping for something better, for i believe that, more often than not, it will yield a positive influence… though no promise of results. i believe in personal atonement through progress- to me, analytical observation is far more productive than judgement. why not own our flaws and move on with the intention of growth? luxuriating in a distaste for others seems myopic, selfish, and short-sighted… and ultimately to the greatest detriment of those who prescribe.

in my 28 years, my outlook on human nature has changed very little, despite the barrage of evidence to erode my faith. i do not presume to take credit for character traits i have inherited or those embedded in my makeup by my parents- surely, both have played a significant role in my development. still, i have never been capable of holding a grudge for very long, for i find that it takes more concentration and energy than is reasonable… and in my experience, more than the act of forgiveness. the act of tenaciously clinging to a grudge implies that i count myself innocent of perpetrating whichever transgressions have been inflicted upon me. and in some instances, that may be true, but i am certainly not blameless- and who am i (or anyone for that matter) to assign a value to pain and suffering? yes, this attitude certainly renders a person vulnerable in a variety of ways, but the choice to forgive should be made with one’s eyes open. the simple act of looking inward and empathizing teaches us far more about ourselves than the decision to condemn… and regardless of whether the result is ideal, the lesson nonetheless remains. in either case, i submit to you that the unexpected gifts and lessons (not to mention friendships) are often well-worth the risks.

i think i know my friends. i may not fully understand what they mean when they call themselves misanthropes…but i KNOW they don’t practice this variety of misanthropy. so, the next time you’re around me and someone makes that claim, i’ll be the one grinning….and clapping my hands in anticipation of tinkerbell getting her wings!


~ by ladamesansregrets on January 29, 2008.

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