Madhuranthakam: Are we Monsters?

Student Indu Mithra Madhuranthakam discusses human nature as it relates to empathy. - Photo via

A charming smile, radiant looks, decent clothes and warm demeanor: the disguise of a highly-civilized man. Lurking behind the beguiling look is a manacled monster waiting for the opportunity to set himself free. One wrong word, one misdeed, one false accusation, one unfair judgment, the threshold could be anywhere. Aren’t we all one step away from unleashing the monsters we sometimes secretly feed? 

Have you ever wondered why we slow down our vehicles to rubberneck an accident? Did you ever secretly feel disappointed because it was just a small accident, where nobody got injured, so there was less to see? If so, don’t worry; you are not alone. Most of us have a subtle semblance of these somewhat psychopathic-like traits within us, but at relatively lower levels than an actual psychopath. 

So, are we all monsters? Are we all wolves covered in sheepskin? 

Well, as much as I love words and quotations, I am also disappointed by them. They are poor translators of human spirits. We are not monsters, but we are not angels either. We are just wild animals tamed by conscience and compassion. We may feel a hint of disappointment when there is a happy ending, but it is nothing compared to how much we care for our fellow man. We are wild and empathetic at the same time– like yin and yang. 

Some people like to make sense of it all – the ability for us to feel like monsters one second, but compassionate beings the next – by retracing our steps back to biblical times. You may be familiar with the story of Adam and Eve. They were living in paradise without a single care in the world, until they saw the tree of knowledge and got lured by the serpent to eat its ripe, juicy, yet forbidden fruits. They devoured the fruits against God’s word, marking the beginning of sin and all the suffering and misery in the world. Do you think their innocence would have been destroyed if not for the fruit?

This tells us an important lesson. That evil exists on par with innocence in this world, and in every human heart. Each passing minute, we make a choice between the good and the bad. Each passing minute, we dig a grave to bury this evil, or this little monster that lives rent-free in our hearts by choosing virtue over vice.

All I am trying to say is that we are empathetic creatures. Sure, we have evil residing in our hearts, but that’s not what helped us make it this far in the evolutionary cycle. It is the ability that lies within all of us to crawl into someone else’s skin, stand in their shoes and feel what they are feeling that has made us come this far. 

Neuroscientists say that it’s oxytocin and dopamine (hormones) that make us feel things like joy, love, care and pleasure. They argue it is oxytocin, the love hormone, that makes us empathize with creatures around us.

Psychologists, on the other hand, say that we developed empathy as a shield to protect ourselves from other species. They speak in-depth about survival instincts and evolution. Whatever the reason is behind this divine feeling we carry in our hearts for our fellow beings, empathy is our second language, and we always choose to speak unhurriedly and gently. 

The next time you cry watching a movie or reading a book, feel joyous for your friend’s achievements or your partner’s success or feel a knot in your stomach looking at the helpless and the needy– the next time you FEEL something good for others, know that you are one step away from being the monster that we all subconsciously fear and one step closer to being a real human. 

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