The Christian Science Monitor

Why are humans so kind, yet so cruel?

Out of all the days humans have spent fighting wars, Dec. 24, 1914, stands out as particularly subversive. At scattered points along the Western Front in Belgium and France, fighting paused, and German and British forces soldiers began singing Christmas carols.

Then, in defiance of the well-heeled generals at the rear, the mostly working-class combatants on both sides laid down their rifles and tentatively emerged from their trenches. Tales of soccer matches are probably exaggerated, but the soldiers did exchange cigarettes and other trinkets and posed for photos together.

The so-called Christmas Truce is notable for juxtaposing our species’ extremes of kindness and aggression, and it illustrates an age-old question about human nature. How can the same species that will readily snap photos and trade gifts with their supposed enemies also readily slaughter each other by the millions?

Our dual natureA grim explanationRising above nature

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