I was reading a post on startup mentoring and come across the expression “it’s not human nature”. The same idea is often expressed in slightly different terms – unnatural, against nature, against human nature, etc – but this is more often a sign that human culture is so impregnated in us that we can’t tell the difference between culture and nature.
In this specific case the author was talking about how helping others without expecting anything in return is not human nature. Hell, I don’t know what is human nature – maybe we don’t even have one.
But where I come from, helping others without expecting anything in return is common practice. But that’s the only way a small village of an hundred people will survive for generations. First everyone knows everyone. Hell, people know every single person in most of the villages around. And if they don’t help the others, who will?
The people who need help are not the guy in a suit who lives across the street that you saw twice in the last year, and to whom you almost had to say hello once, because he almost got in the lift at the metro station with you.
In a small village the people who needs help are the same people you grow up with, the people who worked with you half of the time, the people you say good morning and good night to most days, the people you stop almost always to talk with, even if the only news to tell are about the people who got sick or who needs someone to help in the fields, or about the state of the fields, what needs seeded, what needs planted, what needs work, what needs harvesting…
But in the end, that’s what human nature is about. The relationships with people. It doesn’t matter what we talk about, it’s human nature to relate to others. But when you grow in a city, even when you move to a city after living in the country, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the importance of money, and ROI and into the fear of the others, into the fear if the neighbors that you don’t really know.
But we don’t learn how to talk, how to eat, how to dress by ourselves. We do that by relating to others, but seeing them, hearing them, touching them (maybe this is cultural, some cultures seem to touch a lot more than others, but it’s undeniable that babies calm down way faster in the comfort of an embrace of a caring person than alone by themselves).
Human nature? I really don’t know, but it seems to me that every fireman who runs into a house in fire because there is someone inside, every donation to charity, every time we help someone in need seems to show that helping others without expecting anything in return is not really uncommon for humans.
And mentoring was never an exception to this. In a time when most people had troubles feeding their own family, there were those who took someone else’s kid and teach them their skills, was helping the kid as much as he would help their own.
But the 20th century did bring us the economicist view of the world where what doesn’t generate a profit is not worth doing and it will still take same take for that minimizer view of the world and specially if human nature to be washed out – let’s hope that not by something worse.