The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, has been quoted as saying, “In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow men, with few exceptions, are worthless.” Italian dictator Benito Mussolini offered a slightly different perspective when he said, “The history of saints is mainly the history of insane people.” Is either of these men right about our value as a species? How do you perceive humankind when pondering this question?
Freud, of course, spent a great deal of time studying how the human mind works. It can be disheartening to learn that his summation of our value was so low. But before we accept his poor assessment of humankind, it might help to put his “data pool” into perspective. Freud worked with mostly mentally challenged people in gathering the data he used to develop his theories. While such troubled souls may have been readily available for study, they were not a statistical or random sampling of the population. Interviewing only prison inmates or people from an insane asylum is likely to offer skewed results when it comes to an accurate assessment of humankind.
Mussolini seemed to think that the more altruistic people among us are insane. He may also have meant insane people who martyr themselves for a cause are considered saints, but either perspective implies that Mussolini’s political choices were largely made to further his own self interests. So are there any sane, altruistic people who desire to be of service to others? If so, what motivation drives them to help their neighbor?
The depressing assessments of Freud and Mussolini toward humankind stand in sharp contrast to the way Jesus described us all. Jesus believed we are all made in God’s perfect image and that the kingdom of heaven is within each of us. Jesus said that we would do even greater things than He did despite what the world appears to be at any moment. And Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, made it clear that God is unwilling to lose even one of us, His beloved children. We only have to accept God’s loving ways for our own, and the keys to His kingdom are ours.
So which depiction of humankind are we to believe? Are we all worthless? Is a loving, altruistic approach to helping our neighbor a symptom of lunacy? Or perhaps we have yet to recognize the greatness within each of us and the heritage that is ours if we would simply claim it? If this is indeed a choice, it’s not hard to pick one that brings the greatest joy and love into our lives. So why do we often see the glass as half empty?
Perhaps this occurs when we lose focus by only looking at the negatives in life. If we think that bad things always happen to the saints among us, then why would we want to reach out to others? If we only study the behavior of lunatics living in an asylum, their outlook for everlasting joy is unlikely. But if we would see the earth as a school we will no longer need once we live as Jesus showed us, the truth behind the perspectives of Freud, Mussolini and Jesus becomes apparent. Freud and Mussolini were not wrong, they just hadn’t set their sights high enough to see beyond this school or asylum we call earth. Every day we all get to make that choice for ourselves. The question is, “Where would you prefer to live?”