“To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, ‘Crime and Punishment’
Are we as humanity so self-obsessed with self-interest that we forget our very basic sense of mortal and moral decency? It’s something you witness in real time in Sri Lanka right now. Is self-dependency a reason to ignore and choose to be impervious of our surroundings? Is empathy the first thing to get shot down and duly sacrificed at a pivotal juncture where our test for survival is optimally pushed to bending – no, wait – to breaking point?
Let us examine and weigh upon our conscience, then, one of the biggest ineradicable moral dilemmas that has plagued and tormented us since time immemorial. That great perennial debate whether eradicating one life to save thousands is acceptable; if the extermination of a few in order to salvage millions is a justifiable notion or act.
You know this isn’t yours truly merely waxing lyrical, being defectively effusive, or being blatantly philosophical. It’s a totally valid line of questioning.
Man wants to do what’s right. But man needs to survive to be able to do what’s right. It’s a grand conundrum of epically grandiose proportions.
Can we put aside our base prejudices, biases, and personal vindictiveness in order to traipse that road less travelled? Are we able with good intentions to endeavour rhyme and reason, where we assert and tell ourselves inextricably that the means do nearly always justify the end?
Rationally speaking, we cannot heal wounds of others before we tend to our own inimitable scarring, to try and be someone else’s saviour crutch to lean on before diligently discovering the means of first saving oneself.
But how important is it for us to weather life’s storms, to not live life through the ashes of remembrance, but rather to do things (selfless things) that are meaningful, to make all our choices and every moment count for something a little bit more.
The true Samaritan
When we are overwhelmed and overcome with suffering and life’s perilous manifold struggles, it’s no easy feat to think, feel, and act outside of the peripheries and functional scope of our subjective wants, needs, and desires.
Life, as it is, is without a doubt hard enough, without us espousing upon ourselves external problems, hardships, and burdens.
In some ways we need to first tend to our own predicaments. We must identify, source out, assess and make effort and invest time in licking our own wounds before we try to mend someone else’s injuries.
There is a certain crude prudence and logic to this kind of thinking.
Christians often use the phrase “God helps those who help themselves”. It’s a very iron-clenched-fist-in-a-velvet-glove Old Testament vibe. But there is a valuable instruction here.
We are perhaps gifted with the ability, skill sets, acuity, knowledge, and propensity to learn for ourselves, to learn and correct our mistakes and errors, and pour effort into working harder to deliver ourselves from the potential hardships we encounter and endure.
We have what it takes to take a considerable beating, be it symbolically or metaphorically, emotionally, psychologically, emotionally, or spiritually – and to rise out of the mire.
We can choose to wallow in bitterness, resentment, anguish, envy, and misery, or we can pick up the pieces, brush off the dirt, dust, and grime, and fight to live another day; which is a greater truism in Sri Lanka now with our current situation of multiple crises hampering and hindering people from all walks of life.
Suffering, it would seem, does not discriminate.
The struggles in Sri Lanka are at cataclysmic levels. Faced with shortages of food, medicines, fuel and other essentials – the elevation of thefts, robberies, black-market deals, exacerbated violence, unchecked military and law enforcement abuse, public disarray, kidnappings, murders, and muggings is nigh upon us. The powers that be only seem to be preserving their self-interests and focused primarily on protecting each other.
Meanwhile, the public at large is faced with the most Herculean turmoil of economic, social, and personal struggle ever faced.
Yes, there are thoughtful and selfless people out there who prioritise and put the welfare of others before their own. Perhaps some are more affluent than others and thus can afford to do this.
But there are also people who possess those rare traits of virtue, values, and empathy, where with genuine sincerity will do what they can, when they can, to try to make someone else’s day marginally better.
In times like this, that’s more than a little solace in this chaos that’s prevalent.