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Monday, September 3, 2007

Human Nature

I am constantly amazed by the incredulity that is displayed in the media, and by people in general, when some "trusted figure" comes up in the news as having committed some crime. Just lately it’s the Idaho Senator in the men's room; but, locally we've also had the police chief having sex with a minor and a soccer mom who embezzled money from the soccer club. Nationally we've had the sex scandal involving Catholic priests and now an unfolding scandal with Boy Scout leaders. The media headlines always scream the question "How could a person in a position of trust do this?"

Well, DUH! It's human nature. What is more amazing is the thought that, just because someone is put into a position of trust, somehow basic human nature is suspended and traits like greed, and lust and dishonesty and self-indulgence somehow are negated by the position. It’s another, unwritten human trait that lets us believe that everyone is basically honest, until they prove otherwise to us.

Now stay with me here, because I'm walking a fine line between common sense and cynicism. Common sense would dictate that systems have checks in place to make sure that abuses are caught, even if they are not expected. Cynicism would say that the checks are needed because you expect the worst of people. Wow, that is a fine line! Common sense might encourage the checks and balances as a way to help fight any temptation for those in positions of trust. Cynicism might say that you really can't trust anyone; and, that every position of trust needs tight oversight. That would certainly be a sad trap to fall into.

My point, I guess, is that I find it amusing (I suppose in a dark-humor kind of way) that people express such surprise at the out-ed priest or police chief or soccer mom crooks. Why would anyone choose to believe that just because you are a priest or a Boy Scout leader you can't possibly be a sex offender; or, just because you are a soccer mom, with kids on the team, that you can't be the one to embezzle money from the soccer club to pay for your gambling habit. What possible part of the appointment to those positions would cause basic human nature to be suspended and cause those people only to do right because of the position? OK, the priests might have the strongest case on that point. I’ll admit that I’m as trusting as the next guy, when it comes to these things. I always give the benefit of the doubt to people and believe that they’ll do the right thing; however, I’m also not shocked, if it turns out that they didn’t – disappointed maybe, but not shocked. That is, after all, just a part of human nature, too.

In real estate, we go to great lengths to try to insure a truthful and transparent transaction. We require a Seller’s Disclosure and Lead-based Paint Disclosure on every house and we require the buyer to read them before making any offer. On both sides of that process are Realtors who are in positions of trust, advising the parties. Yet we still get lawsuits every year from buyers who discover later that the sellers “forgot” about some major defect in the property. Most sellers try to hide behind a defense that they misunderstood the question(s) on the forms – like answering “No” to the question about evidence of water in the basement, because once it was cleaned up there didn’t appear to be any evidence. Sometimes I’m reminded of the TV tapes of President Bill Clinton eluding some of the questions about Monica Lewinsky by asking what the definition of “is” is (or something like that). One reason why we do the home inspections prior to closing is to find those defects that the homeowners either didn’t know were there or which they conveniently forgot about on the disclosures. Whoops! I crossed over the line into cynicism there for a moment. But, that’s just human nature, too. Now I have to go off and be disappointed in myself.

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