‘People Are People’, But ‘People Are Good’?

If one knows what is right,
he will do it;
nobody wants to be evil.

— Socrates (paraphrased)

In 1984, Depeche Mode released ‘People Are People‘ (via the album ‘Some Great Reward’), an anthem against senseless inter-racial and religious hate. As the key lyrics go, ‘People are people, so why should it be? You and I should get along so awfully? So, we’re different colors and we’re different creeds. And different people have different needs.’

People are people, the way we are, but with more common basic ground than fundamental differences. More accurately, despite having different appearances and beliefs, thus with different wants, we have the same needs. All we really want and need is True Happiness, even if some are misguided about what it constitutes and how to get there at the moment.

If only all people, with open hearts and minds, recognise this, and agree to disagree amiably, we will get along awfully well instead. Where there is disagreement on the common ground to take a stand on, may there be gentlemanly discussion with informed democratic choices respected. Those who strongly dislike the results chosen by the majority should make peace… or graciously leave for a ‘better’ place?

‘It’s obvious you hate me, though, I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve never even met you, so, what could I have done? I can’t understand, what makes a man, hate another man, help me understand… And now you’re punching, and you’re kicking, and you’re shouting at me. I’m relying on your common decency. So far, it hasn’t surfaced, but I’m sure it exists. It just takes a while to travel from your head to your fist.’

In the Buddhist teachings, seemingly ‘unfounded’ hatred sometimes arises ‘naturally’ by instinct due to karmic tendencies, which can also bear fruit collectively, between communities. Since everything runs on cause and effect, even hatred that easily arises towards strangers might be a spillover effect from a past life.

If present inter-community hatred might be a continuing remnant from past inter-community hatred, all the more should we dissolve such rage now, lest it worsens to create hell for one another. Deep down, even more naturally, we all have common decency as all sentient beings have Buddha-nature, the very basis and potential for purity, that is undefiled by greed, hatred and delusion (i.e. the three poisons).

In 2024, four decades later, perhaps as a sign of these changing times, DM released ‘People Are Good‘ (via the album ‘Memento Mori’), a seemingly cynical and pessimistic ‘retake’ on people? As some of the words go, ‘Keep telling myself, that people are good. Whisper it under my breath, so I don’t forget. Keep fooling myself, that they do all they can. Sometimes they simply slip up, but it’s not what they meant. Heaven help me. Heaven help us…’

This seems to spell out desperate hope that people are actually good. The titular line is repeated to oneself in continual attempts to remember this… while also admitting that this is self-deception, at least to some extent. The bad news about people is that not everyone does all that they should, while some might do the terrible. The worse news is that some are unreflective and thus unrepentant, at least for now.

‘And when they do bad things, they’re just hurting inside. Keep fooling myself, that everyone cares, and they’re all full of love. It’s just their patience gets tried… Everything will be alright in time. It will be fine, ’cause people are good.’

Those who do evil to harm others are already personally harmed by the three poisons. Thus, there should be empathy and compassion for them too. When overrun by these poisons in the moment, they might not care about others, not even about those who care about them.

Yet, their Buddha-nature is still intact within, able to express all virtues if aligned to with further practice. All they need is to clear the ‘dirt’ that cakes this shining pure ‘gem’ inside. While the three poisons might thicken or thin cyclically, it is with lasting Buddha-nature that we all have lasting hope.

So, ‘people are people’… but ‘people are good’? It depends on which perspective we are looking at each person from. Are we looking at their momentary evils or innate potential for purity? As long as our Buddha-nature is yet to be realised, we are mixed bags, both good and bad people. What matters is that we motivate and inspire one another to advance towards our truly natural Buddha-nature, away from the unnatural poisons shrouding it.

There is only one good,
knowledge [or wisdom,
from which all other virtues arise],
and one evil,
ignorance [or delusion,
from which all other vices arise].

— Socrates (paraphrased)

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People Are People

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Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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