Rutger Bregman with images of older lady holding hands projected on him in brightvibes studio

Uncovering a Crucial Misperception About Humankind: Rutger Bregman’s Radical Insights on Human Nature

In “Humankind, A Hopeful History” historian and author Rutger Bregman provides radical insights into human nature, challenging a crucial misconception about humankind.

In today’s world, where negativity often dominates headlines, historian and author Rutger Bregman offers a refreshing perspective on human nature. “I think the biggest misconception about humankind is that people are selfish. They’re really not…”, Bregman told during an exclusive video with BrightVibes. This idea forms the foundation of his book, “Humankind: A Hopeful History.” Click on the video above to watch the interview.

The Media’s Role in Shaping Perceptions

Bregman points out a significant issue with the news media: it often focuses on exceptions rather than the rule. “We all follow the news, and the news is mostly about exceptions. It’s about things that go wrong.”


This skewed representation gives us an “upside-down view of human history and human nature.”

We human beings, we are the stories that we tell ourselves. We become our stories. – Rutger Bregman

Debunking Veneer Theory

One of the most prevalent ideas in Western culture is the veneer theory, suggesting that civilization is merely a thin layer hiding our true, selfish nature. This theory posits that in times of crisis, our true selves emerge, leading to looting, violence, and chaos.

However, Bregman counters this with a powerful revelation:

“What scientists have actually known since the 1960s… is that what you actually get in a moment of crisis is an explosion of altruism.”

The Reality of Human Nature

Bregman’s research and insights challenge many long-held beliefs. For instance, the bystander effect, which suggests that people are less likely to help someone in distress if others are present, has been debunked by recent studies. Marie Lindegaard’s groundbreaking research found that in 90% of observed cases, people did indeed help each other.

“Science is the only self-correcting system that we have that sort of criticises itself and then develops and becomes better.” – Rutger Bregman

The Dual Nature of Humanity

While Bregman acknowledges the vast potential for kindness in humans, he doesn’t shy away from addressing our darker side. He believes there’s a connection between our inherent friendliness and moments of cruelty. Sometimes, our loyalty to our group can lead us to commit harmful acts in the name of that loyalty.

“On the one hand, human beings are the friendliest species in the animal kingdom… we’re clearly also the cruelest.”

The Power of Positive Assumptions

Bregman’s philosophy is simple yet profound:

“When in doubt, assume the best.”

This approach not only acknowledges the inherent goodness in most people but also has the power to bring out the best in those who might have negative intentions. “What you assume in other people is what you get out of them.”

The Way Forward

Bregman’s insights challenge us to reevaluate our societal structures, which often operate on the assumption of human selfishness. By fostering environments of trust, kindness, and cooperation, we can create a society that reflects our best selves.

“If you treat people with kindness and charity and generosity, then that’s what they become.” – Rutger Bregman

If you want to delve deeper into this enlightening perspective on human nature, consider exploring his book, “Humankind: A Hopeful History.” For more about the author, check out his website.

Good to know; we interviewed Rutger in 2021. However, his words are still as relevant today as they were then. You can find the shorter version of our video interview with him here.

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