Friday, March 27, 2009

Are we losing our character?

A recent poll by DoctorNDTV was conducted to check to see how many people seeing an accident victim on the side of the road would respond with an offer of help. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Unless something was dangerous or untoward, I would gladly offer my assistance, especially if women or children were involved. Nonetheless, it would seem I am in the minority. Aside from offering direct assistance like calling 911, respondents to the poll were also given choices with less involvement like taking a picture from a cell phone or camera or texting friends about the accident. Incredibly, some 61% of those polled said they would either pass by the accident scene without stopping, decide not to call 911, take a picture of the accident, text or Twitter someone about it. Is this an indictment of our sense of character or what? In the Boy Scout troops with which I am associated, we constantly strive to instill in each Scout a sense of duty to help others at all times. It is this concept that has become almost a caricature of itself as when a Scout offers to help a little old lady cross the street. It is a selfless act that is predicated upon a supposition of service and readiness to help one another. In my own case I believe it is just my normal character to want to help others and correct the wrongs inflicted upon others as best I can. But I must ask where are we as a nation if over three-fifths of the public believes we should do nothing to help our fellow man at worst or should instead attempt in some way to take advantage of his plight? What does that say for our souls or our collective strength of character? Have we lost the notion that founded this nation that united we stand and divided we fall? At the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was Benjamin Franklin who quipped, "we must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately." He understood that with one broad stroke of the pen, each man was signing his own death warrant. Yet, it was for a greater purpose that those men met to found our nation. Abraham Lincoln understood this concept full well when considering how to deal with the recalcitrant Confederate States and that was to think of them as family members in a squabble. They could no more leave the union of their own accord than one could divorce himself from his parents. His poetic imagery was perhaps best expressed when he said, "a house divided against itself cannot stand." We need to be involved with one another to support one another in time of need and to revel with one another in time of joy and celebration. One of my favorite quotes is by John Donne who had the good sense in just a few words to encapsulate this feeling to the extreme: "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." This thought succinctly brings to the fore two concepts: one, that we are all interconnected and dependent upon one another and two, that we are all mortal and in imminent threat of death from the moment of our births. Hemingway was so impressed with this quotation that he named his glorious novel set during the Spanish Civil War after it. Perhaps, if more Americans would consider this in their daily outlook more and Twitter or Facebook a bit less, we might make more progress in our economic recovery and improve our souls in the process.

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