“This story just goes to show you that human nature is…”

Finish the sentence. Bet you get it wrong.

Of course stories (and poems, and plays) generally offer insights into human nature. That’s a big reason why we read: for the insights. Human beings are complicated creatures, even the simplest of us, and therefore infinitely fascinating. Even if you write over and over again about the exact same person, new insights will continue to emerge. Change the point of view, the immediate circumstance, the moment in time, the conflict, the other characters, and that person will show other sides, other depths, other selves.

So my student could have chosen almost any adjective and had a sentence with potential.

Human nature is …

fascinating.

guilty in every human predicament.

unpredictable.

mysterious.

frustrating.

fundamentally the same all over the world.

irredeemable.

holy.

But he didn’t go there.

Here’s his sentence:

“This story just goes to show you that human nature is inevitable.”

Given that utterance, the reader has to look at the rest of the wording while she absorbs the shock. “Just goes to show you”—what kind of phrase is that? Don’t we use it most commonly in situations of unhappy lessons? —”The fact that the paperboy threw the newspaper into that puddle on purpose just goes to show you that adolescent boys have a nasty streak,” for instance. “When I told my mother I saw the beggar getting into a limousine, she just said ‘That just goes to show you, you can’t believe every tale of woe you hear.'” And so on.

So what’s it doing in a sentence about a story? Had the reader previously believed that human nature was evitable, and the story proved her wrong? We can live deluded lives, but a story can open our eyes to the truth?

In a paper that didn’t tell me human nature is inevitable, I probably would have ignored the “goes to show you.” It’s just a slangy phrase; he didn’t mean anything by it. He just meant “shows.” But once the “inevitable” got in there, I was forced to spend more time trying to figure out what he was talking about, and that gave me a reason to go back and reread (don’t we go back to the beginning of a sentence if we get to the end and feel we can’t have understood it?). Back I went, and tripped over “goes to show you.”

But let’s not dwell on that, but forge on.

What could he have meant? Trying words that have the same beginning and perhaps ending as the mystery word is often a way to make an educated guess. So, inscrutable? incomprehensible? indomitable? insatiable? ineffableineradicable? inimical to serious thought?

Inedible?

Maybe he just wanted to say you can’t change human nature. I failed to copy out the next few sentences, so I don’t know where he took his observation, but I’d hazard a guess that that was what he meant. It certainly makes a bit more sense than “you can’t avoid human nature,” or even “you can’t avoid having human nature,” which the sentence seems actually to be saying.

Hmm. I wish he’d chosen one of the other possibilities—even “inedible.” Why not take a chance and get a little fun out of life?

P.S. Thanks to all my readers and followers! As of last night, my fun, this blog, now has more than 500 followers, not to mention the 350 others who just have it inflicted upon them via Facebook. Bring on the book offers!

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

9 responses to ““This story just goes to show you that human nature is…”

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