This summer I volunteered at an early childhood daycare center. Before volunteering, I had never experienced working with children. I was surprised to see that children have very developed personalities at such a young age. The young children were too young to be completely molded by society just yet, so it is obvious their personalities were pure and not an act they put up to please people. My experience at the daycare made me think of Hobbes and his theory of the state of nature. That perhaps the children were in a state closest to the state of nature because society has not changed their thoughts and actions yet.
*Names have been changed
The daycare was a facility ran by Franciscan Nuns and the students were predominantly from low income families, and/or the inner city. The school went from early child day care to fifth grade classes, and they are currently expanding to include a middle school. Each classroom has a different age group, my classroom had one-year olds. Out of all the children in my classroom, Cruz* was the most memorable. Not only was he memorable for his cuteness and his ability to charm anyone at such a young age, but he was a very mischievous boy. Although he appeared sweet, he would climb shelves, kick teachers, and bully the other kids. Many of the daycare women said “kids will be kids” as an excuse for his behavior, but what if he wasn’t being just a kid. Was he was expressing his natural state?
Hobbes believes humans in their natural state are selfish. Every action humans do is self motivated, and even the most altruistic action stems from selfishness. Now Cruz was much smaller than other children for he was younger than the others. Although he was physically different than the rest of the one year-olds, he used his charm, cuteness, and assertiveness to get what he wanted. His ability to remain equal with the other children through other means demonstrate Hobbes theory that differences in people are insignificant because people can use other means to over power each other.
Cruz certainly did use his assertiveness to get what he wanted. He would compete over toys, and come out on top, either by pushing the others out of his way, or simply stealing the toys from the other children. Hobbes theorizes “…that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.” Cruz fighting over toys demonstrated the first principle of quarreling: competition. He was competing because there was a scarcity of certain kinds of toys of which he wanted to play with. His stealing of stoles made the other kids afraid of him, and Tommy* always knew to hide when playing with certain toys so Cruz wouldn’t steal them. In this childish way, Cruz development mini enemies through his competition for toys.
Cruz not only took toys because he wanted to play with them, but because he simply wanted to deny others of the toy. He liked being surrounded by the toys while the other kids had nothing to play with. Like Hobbes suggests, Cruz enjoyed “...taking pleasure in contemplating [his] own power in the acts of conquest, which [he] pursue[d] farther than [his] security require[d]...”. By him taking toys he did not need, or want to play with, he was showing that third principle of quarrel: glory.
Cruz was also very suspicious of the other kids, for when they got too close to his toys, he would push the kids away, or runaway with his toys. He was being very selfish by hogging all the toys, but his actions also demonstrated the second principle causes of quarreling: diffidence. He showed diffidence around adults who appeared less friendly. Around friendly looking women he would agree to share and would even share with the older women. However, when it came to a male (a scary figure), he did not want to share, possibly out of shyness or fear.
His behavior was not appreciated by the teacher and the other volunteers, so many of them worked tirelessly to make him share. At first he refused by running away with his toys, but once he realized we would reward him with attention for sharing, he did it more often. However, the minute we looked away, he would stop sharing, and start playing by himself once more. This action showed that Hobbes was right in saying people are naturally selfish. An action such as sharing is seen as genuine and unselfish, but Cruz only shared to receive attention, not because he was being altruistic.
My experience with Cruz makes me believe that Hobbes is correct, that people are naturally selfish. After all, parents must teach children how to share and how to be nice to others. Therefore, I believe it is our natural instinct is to do everything for ourselves. Now, is this because we are fearful and want to make sure we are okay above anything else? From my experience in the daycare, the answer is yes. The children were fearful of not getting what they wanted, and so they fought with others. This action can connect to older adults. Adults fear not getting what they want (a long life), and so they do whatever they can in their power to help themselves, even if that means pushing people our of their way.
The children lived in a civilized government, therefore they were not truly in the state of nature. However, children are the closest they will ever be to the state of nature because they do not truly experience governments effects. In conclusion, the daycare helped me realize that even though most people find babies pure of heart, and adults corrupt: we are all selfish and evil on the inside.
What do you think?