Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fear and Good Works

I was recently looking over this article, when I came across this line: “I believe that at our cores, we all want to help others, but we are unwilling to take the risk.”

It was an intriguing claim to me, the idea that we innately desire to lend a hand to someone who needs it. I look into my own heart and oftentimes don't see that. Sometimes I do.

I think of a simple case like someone stranded on the highway. I don't think I've ever stopped for someone with car trouble (once, for an accident). I don't rationalize it each time I pass a stopped car, because by now it's just habit to not stop. But my reasoning goes something like, "I could stop, but I have somewhere to be. Besides maybe it's a serial killer using it as a ploy." Don't laugh. You think it too. "And if it's not a serial killer, they might think I'm a serial killer. If it is a legit car problem, I'm sure they have a cell phone and have already called for help. They don't need mine."

What further interested me was that the author cited fear as the reason we avoid helping others. Our fear of risk, of danger I suppose, is stronger than what he calls our intrinsic desire to help. We weigh it out, do the math, and pass them by. "I don't want to die today. But if they do really need help, I don't know how long it will take, and I don't have all day."

Strangely, growing up, my favorite Bible story was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I just liked the compassion it embodied--going out of your way to help a stranger. That compassion connected with me. I think the Good Samaritan was taking a risk himself, like stopping in the bad part of town known for crime and you're the minority.

But now it seems like a naive story from my childhood.

So what do you think? Is it in our nature to help others? Is it fear that prevents us from following through on doing good for others?

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