Wednesday, September 29, 2010

(My) New Thoughts on the Good Samaritan...

Disclaimer: I know I am an endlessly accidental recycler of other people's long held ideas. I do not care, because sometimes I wonder if anyone could ever have an original thought (I.E., a thought never, ever thought by any human) in today's world, where we have had at least 6,000 years of humanity thinking, warring, caring, hurting...

I tend to think that humans are meant to be and are, if un-tampered with, good and moral beings, endlessly caring about each other's strife. This keeps me relatively surprised whenever evil comes up, but never in a position where I must abandon the idea for long, because, after all, the "tampering" is what hardens us so. Anyhow, as in times past, some senseless acts of human cruelty have came to the light of my consciousness and upset, alarmed, and humbled me: one of my psychology class's lectures was about social psychology. Being about social psychology, it, of course, mentioned Stanley Milgram's infamous experiment (one I have been aware of for years now... That surprised me not) and other experiments conducted that are similar in purpose and outcome to that stereotypical one.

No, the experiments shocked me only mildy. What really stuck in me were the case studies of humankind's mindless disregard for one another and just how easy it is to ignore people even in their greatest distress. Before, I had read of a man struck by a car and ignored for an ungodly amount of time as he lay dying (or dead) in the street as people and cars passed by, and that article, which I have kept in my now-practically defunct "Apocalypse Journal" shocked and appalled me for months when I first stumbled upon it in the newspaper. That is a more recent occurrence. Two days ago, I learned of a different case, one that is likely already well known amongst those wiser and older than I: the partially public murder of Kitty Genovese. To keep things brief and to hide my ignorance, I will not discuss that in detail (seeing as to the fact you likely either know of it or you can easily click on the link I just embedded).*

The fact that human beings can find ways to ignore even the suffering and death of others of their kind is something terrifying. Being caring and empathetic is NOT something that comes naturally to adult humans; self-centeredness is. It is not uncommon for the priest and Levite (referring to the first to people in Jesus' parable to pass by the hurt man) to pass by and ignore the man in desperate need. We easily explain away our selfishness with pathetic excuses that we have important engagements, time will not allow it, or that we just simply cannot be expected to help everyone. The Samaritan, however, was somehow less hardened; he put aside himself to accomplish a greater good. Such an act is one humans are meant to do, but one that life works with its utmost strength to prevent. In other words, it is never an accident that good occurs. If you are not prepared to do good, you will not. If you close your eyes to other's small misfortunes, you will not have the courage nor opportunity to save a life.

That realization scares me. My deepest desire is that one day, when I am tested, I will be found to be brave enough to rise to the occasion of following my heart and soul and helping that one person who might one day need me. Yet I am lacking in day to day empathy: I turn away when I see a stranger cry. I usually forgo the opportunity to help the harried mother or elderly lady carry their bags or stroller off the bus. I don't share my blessings as I should but instead hide them away to be used while no one can spot them and desire them. I am often to shy to even give people a soft smile to show that, whomever they are, I am glad that they are around... Instead, I look down. This is all wrong; it is all paralyzing and hateful. So many little things could be done, yet...

Yet...

Yet...

I threaten to remain within myself until it is too late.



*Side note: While writing this, I looked into the Wikipedia page for it (the page I linked to) and see now that there are some misgivings over the true reality of the attack and the real reactions that the neighbors had. However, even if the ordeal was not as radical as my teacher stated, it is, nonetheless, an abomination that corresponds with other instances of public apathy (such as the Holocaust and the aforementioned man struck by a car).

1 comment:

Marvin the Martian said...

Well said, as always. There's a link to an early demo of "We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)" by Peter Gabriel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSABDDLOmIU. The finished song is banned from YouTube for copyright reasons, but if you find a used copy of 1986's "So" album, it's on there. It's beautiful.

Just the fact that you're worried about not being ready to help someone in need when the time comes, indicates that you ARE ready. You may avert your eyes now to minor suffering, but you will not when it counts. And for now, at least you know what to work on. Smile and offer a hand.

I think the Kitty Genovese Syndrome is more common in densely-packed urban environments, where everyone struggles to create the psychic space around them that they need to survive, by pushing everyone else away from them, including everyone else's suffering. I don't think such things occur much outside of urban hellholes like NYC.