My father taught me to play devils advocate, primarily by example. Many times in my youth I was frustrated by his relentless example. He often told me I don't really understand my own position if I don't understand the opposite position. As much as it frustrated me then, I now recognize it as one of the greatest lessons I ever learned. In mathematics, a lot can be learned about a proposition by studying its negation. In fact, that is the core of a common technique called proof by contradiction, among others. I suppose it is a way of thinking out of the box: studying a mathematical object from outside.
My mother taught me empathy. She almost seems to have a supernatural ability to sense what others are feeling, almost as if she were experiencing those feelings herself. Apparently she passed some of that empathy to me, and it seems to have been amplified somewhat by my tumor resection.
I think that together they provide me with a perspective that has lead to my belief that very few, if any, people have any "evil" motives. In nearly all cases, I find their motives at least understandable. Even "monsters" such as Hitler honestly seem to have believed what they were doing was right. The Nazis considered themselves Christians on a crusade – something that has occurred many times. If someone doing what we consider wrong believes what they are doing is right, are they evil? How can we ever be sure we are right? We have done our fair share of wrong, and at the time believed it was right. Are we evil?
But one thing I never understood is pure racism. My parents and others say it is just a generational thing. That my generation is “post-racial.” But as far as I can tell, all previous generations had to deal with racism, so why are recent generations "immune," or are we? I used to try to understand racism in terms the human tribal instinct to fear differences. But then we should still be subject to that instinct unless we've evolved or something equally profound has happened to us. Or maybe we are still as racist, or tribal, as ever but in denial.