The Power of Human Nature

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“There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty that makes human nature rise above itself in acts of bravery and heroism” -Alexander Hamiliton. Human nature often implies to the unique characteristics that humans tend to exhibit. The Webster’s dictionary definition of human nature is “the essential essence of who we are collectively as human beings”. This means the traits behaviours and characteristics essential to what it is to be as a human being as a matter of natural fact and these cannot be changed. However, the concept of human nature is a contentions argument, since all humans inherit different characteristics, which is strongly influenced by, to name a few of their experiences, cultures, religion and age, and as such we need to understand that humans are diverse, complex and unique. Therefore since there is no agreed upon definition of what human nature is, if we define human nature as simply the way we tend to act based on our intuitive and automatic impulses, then it seems that we are overwhelmingly cooperative species, willing to give for the good of the group even when it comes at our own personal expense. This concept is explored by Steven Galloway in the novel “Cellist of Sarajevo”, where he demonstrates that even in the most inhuman situations people are always prepared to risk everything, since true human nature is tested and exposed during conflict. Galloway writes a historical fiction of the siege of Sarajevo during the Balkan war, and tells the story through the eyes of three main characters, Arrow, Kenan, and Dragon all of whom maintain their humanity in the face of such hard atrocities happening around them.

Standing up for what you believe in even if it means standing alone is important in everyone’s life, as it shows bravery and courage, which was shown in Arrow’s life, as she sacrificed her own life to save Sarajevo from destruction and to protect the cellist’s life by shooting the men of the hill. When Arrow picked her choice of attack she pondered, “though she hide’s on the ninth floor of this depredated building, the fortress is an uphill run, and she must slip the bullet between a series of buildings that stand between her target. The soldiers must stay within a space of about three meters, and smoke from burning buildings periodically obscures her view. As soon as she lets off a shoot, every sniper on the Southern hill will begin to search for her” (Galloway, 13-14) Regardless of the threats directed towards Arrow from the men she continued to take care of the city wishing one day it would return back to what it was before. Arrow was also in charge of protecting the cellist from the sniper resulting in her putting herself in serious danger. As Arrow was unaware of the importance of the cellist she put herself in his spot realizing how important his protection meant to the city. “Now, as she sits where he sits, she tells herself that she will not allow this man to die. He will finish what he is doing. It isn’t important whether she understands what he’s doing or why he is doing it she does understand it’s important, and that is enough”(Galloway, 97-98) Arrow saw the positive influence the cellist brought on Sarajevo and sacrificed herself to keep the cellist alive for the city.

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Sacrificing for our loved ones means going the extra mile to keep them happy and safe. During the siege of Sarajevo Kenan and his family were faced with the loss of electrical power, having to travel miles to get food and water. “Kenan knows he’s getting progressively weaker, like almost everyone else in the city, and wonders if the day will come when he won’t be able to carry back enough water for his family”(Galloway, 27) Kenan motivated himself to travel to the brewery through his brave actions Kenan showed he was willing to do anything to provide his family with the necessities they required to stay alive. Getting water was a huge priority for his family as he felt carrying the two extra bottles of water for his elderly neighbour could have impacted his family’s chances of survival. “He’s tired of carrying water for a woman who has never had a kind word to say to him”(Galloway, 171) The humanity we would expect has disappeared in Kenan but he encountered the cellist who helped him recover true human nature during a time of turmoil. As he listened to the music he was moved and felt a sense of serenity overcame him and “feels himself relax”… a young boy in a new coat holding his father’s hand as he walks down a winter street, the building behind the cellist repairs itself”(Galloway, 209) The power of hope, overcame his fear of war and destruction and ultimately, the outcome of inner conflict has proven that true human nature of doing what is right prevails, and destroys brutality. When Kenan left Mrs. Ristivski’s water behind he felt remorse and went back, “he begins to work his way towards the Cumurija Bridge where two bottles of water without handles wait for him in a small hole”(Galloway, 216). Kenan realized that Mrs. Ristovski put her trust in Kenan and leaving the bottles would be breaking that promise especially during a time it was needed the most. He came to a consideration and traveled back the way he came where it was still dangerous and under attack to collect the bottles. These risks that Kenan took part of showed he was willing to go to all lengths to protect his loved ones.

War naturally has a negative impact on most if not all humans. The struggles and atrocities faced have the ability to change a person, to strip away their colour and what makes them love the things they do. Dragan is the one character who became somewhat desensitized by all the traumatic events that were taking place around him, he became used to the gunfire and explosions that he just numbed the pain of war. In addition, he lost his humanity by ignoring the pain of others. However, since human nature is always at the core of every human, Dragan also used conflict to demonstrate this. When Dragan seen an old acquaintance across the street he avoided him as it reminded him how difficult it was for him to deal with what was happening in the city and how all his valuables were lost. Soon after Dragan was powerless to stay clear of another old friend Emina, she later explained the cellist to Dragan as he was unaware why anyone would do what the cellist was doing. “What the cellist wants isn’t a change, or to set things right again, but to stop things from getting worse”(Galloway, 183) It was because of the cellist’s impact on Dragan his attitude started to change and his motivation began to believe the cellist’s motivation by stopping things from getting worse. He realized “ it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of his city. All that matters is what he thinks. In the Sarajevo of his memory, it was completely unacceptable to have a deadman lying in the street. In the Sarajevo of today it’s normal he has been living in neither, has tried to live in a city that no longer exists, refusing to participate in the one that does”(Galloway, 185) This got him to clear the thought of dying and losing other people to the mentality of his own protection to the city making him drag the old man out of the street risking his life.

In times of war if an individual wants to keep their humanity, one must be able to sacrifice their own safety to shelter the safety of the people they care about. The main characters in the book are able to do this and because of this the people close to them are safe. Even though in the midst of war one might be overwhelmed with fear one must not easily give it to the enemy. If people do not show self sacrifice towards other people’s humanity is destroyed.

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The Power of Human Nature. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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