The Emotional Roots of Ethics

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Destructive emotions

When you reflected on whether human nature is loving or aggressive, did you acknowledge our capacity for both?

Along with empathy and love, what emotions do you have to work with when trying to live with ethical compassion?

Where there is consciousness, hatred, ignorance, and violence do indeed arise naturally. This is why, although our nature is basically disposed toward kindness and compassion, we are all capable of cruelty and hatred. It is why we have to struggle to better our conduct. To say that basic human nature is not only non-violent but actually disposed toward love and compassion, kindness, gentleness, affection, creation, and so on does, of course, imply a general principle which must, by definition, be applicable to each individual human being.

If human nature is nonviolent, how do we explain Stalins, Hitlers, tyrants, and the many despots in our world? How do we explain those who kill and torture indiscriminately?

The Dalai Lama suggests that we recognize that such people are the result of particular causes and conditions, particular personalities within a particular society at a particular time and in a particular place. and these causes and conditions allow the basic impulse toward care and affection for others to be submerged.

Vision properly motivated can lead to wonders; when vision is divorced from basic human feeling, the negative potential cannot be overestimated.

In order to cultivate compassion, we need to restrain those factors — destructive emotions — which inhibit compassion. You will learn about this process in Module 2.

Afflictive emotions — ours and others'

How might understanding your own destructive emotions help in developing compassion for others who suffer from their own afflictive emotions?