Here’s a hypothetical for you. Say you’re forcibly placed in a small room containing only a chair and small metal desk. The un-named, masked captors that plucked you from your bed in the middle of the night, now force you to sit in the chair. While the two firm hands on your shoulders assure you stay seated, you look in front of you at the table, now realizing that there are two buttons on the table. Your captors tell you that you have a choice. You can press the button on the left and one person will die. You don’t know this person and they aren’t a president or an “important” member of any society that will suffer greatly from their death. Basically, they have as much importance in the world as you, which is not much. Continuing with the guards’ explanation: you can also choose to press the button on the right. This button will instantly kill you. Button on the left: some random person in the world instantly dies. Button on the right: you instantly die. I’ve asked a number of people which button they would chose, and surprisingly (to me anyways) more people have said they’d chose the button on the right, which would kill themselves. This is surprising to me, and likely not a very realistic statistic, because I can think of very few cases where someone will give up, let alone risk, their life for a stranger. I guess it’s happening in Japan with the Nuclear power plant workers staying back in the crumbling power plant attempting to prevent the meltdown. But aside from that, how often do you see someone in your own life risk injury to lend a hand?
Yesterday I was outside the hostel unloading some bikes or something from one of the cars when I looked down the street where a car crash had just occurred, moments before I stepped outside. I hurried down the sidewalk to the intersection where the two cars were steaming and smoking. One driver had ran a red light and smashed into the front corner of the other car. Both drivers appeared fine as they stepped out of their wrecked cars. It wasn’t that bad of a crash. One man was hysterical, repeatedly saying, “My wife’s gonna KILL me man!” as he wept, holding his head in his hands as he paced around. He seemed drunk to me, but I guess it was just shock. The other guy, probably in his early 20’s, got out of his car and immediately began arguing with some spectators that had witnessed the crash. He was in shock too possibly, repeating the same things over and over. I can’t remember what he was saying exactly, but basically it went like this, “I’m a brand new driver. I just got my license last week. This is a brand new car. The light was green. It’s not my fault, I’m a brand new driver!” It was obviously his fault. He had run the light. And I felt like clocking him in the face to shut him up. Amazingly, it was a full five minutes after the crash by the time the young guy remembered to ask if the other guy was alright.
All I could think about was how this idiot would have killed me or one of my teammates had we been on a bike at the intersection when he ran the light. And as I lay dead on the pavement, he would have been saying the exact same thing, “It wasn’t my fault, man! I just got my license, the light was green!”
I get passed too closely by way too many ass holes to think the world is a nice place. Every day that I don’t get nailed by some uncaring person is a good day. Unfortunately, in my opinion the jerks of the world DO outnumber the good people. I don’t believe a few bad apples ruin an apple pie. If there were two bad apples in an apple pie, yes, parts of the pie would taste like shit. But most of it would still be an apple pie, which tastes amazing! I’d eat the whole thing even if beforehand I knew two of the apples were rotten, just because I like pie that much! If the number of good people outweighed the bad, the world wouldn’t have as many problems as it does.
This brings me to my conclusion. What button would I push? I’d push the button on the left of course. Self preservation. I’d press it even if it meant two people would be killed to save me. Three even. Four. Sounds pretty disgusting, huh? Well we press that button every single time we wake up in the morning. Everyone living in a developed country, especially the United States, presses it every day. I have no idea how many people have to die every year to allow me to live the way I do, but I know that it’s a lot. Millions die from starvation, war, and disease so I can use oil to drive to bike races and afterwards eat my fill of bananas that cost me 69 cents a pound (which I still think is a rip off and proclaim so every time I go shopping). We kill strangers for their resources, and while it may not be as direct as pressing a button, it’s still genocide. Genocide of the third world.
While I may not be willing to shoot myself in the head for a stranger, I am willing to risk my life in an attempt to save them if need be. I think a lot of people might do this, provided they had a little bit of courage. But risking your life is not the same thing as giving up your life, especially when the life you’re saving is in another country, far away, faceless and nameless to you.
So what do we do? I don’t expect anyone to kill themselves in order to save me. That would be an absurd and un-ask-able deed for anyone to do, stranger or not. Obviously more compassion is needed in the world. But then again how do you feel compassion for some idiot in a Hummer thundering down the road passing you at 65 mph with one foot of space between your head and his side mirror? I’m not sure how to end this post since I myself don’t seem to contribute much to the improvement of the world or the increase in compassion amongst my fellow (stranger) human beings. But there’s one easy thing we can ask ourselves when making both big and small decisions as we go about our day to day. To quote Kurt Vonnegut, “There’s only one rule on this earth. God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” I would change this a little and insert the word “try” and “in most circumstances,” to that second sentence because let’s face it: if someone bar-checks me and tries to take my wheel coming into the final 500 meters, you can bet I won’t be spewing kindness out either end.