Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Voltaire's Challenge

Have you ever passed a car on the shoulder somewhere, four-way flashers blinking, hood open obviously in some kind of distress and said to yourself, 'that doesn't look good-I sure hope they get help.' 

Or how about on the way into our office from the parking lot, we pass a discarded fast food wrapper or nearly-empty cuppa something. When there was food or drink in those containers they weighed more than they do now and yet, now they’re too heavy to carry to a trash can. Not that we do that- we just shake our heads as we walk by.

Hold that thought as I share what may be an urban legend (I love its point and don’t care if it’s real) about an experiment that placed lab mice in glass containers and slowly filled the containers with water. In the story, the mice struggled to stay alive as the water rose higher. And at just the moment that a mouse, exhausted from swimming, would give up and sink to the bottom, a lab assistant would swoop in and scoop the mouse up and save it.

This experiment was conducted many times and no mouse was ever permitted to drown. But, and here's the interesting (to me) part: what researchers learned was that every rescue happened earlier and sooner than the time before. The mice figured out the sooner they stopped trying to save themselves, the faster someone would reach in and save them. Thus, why try? The hand of Man became the Hand of God.

To apply my story to ourselves go back to the trash or the disabled vehicle.

I don't have to pick up that discarded coffee cup I passed on a downtown sidewalk--Norwich has a Public Works Department to clean the streets, right? And in terms of being a Good Samaritan on the highway-  why do we have Triple A or state troopers, if not to help disabled motorists?

"Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do," offered Voltaire, an 18th Century French Humanist, whose words disappear when judged by the deeds we choose to do and those we choose to NOT do.


We would become a city of strangers with no one to assist the homeless and the helpless, to battle a blaze when a house on street corner catches on fire or to care for children too often left to their own devices and an indifferent fate by our savage society. We could lock our car doors as we drive through the dodgy part of town-wouldn't want any of that to get into our car would we? And ideally, what we don't have a government program to provide assistance for, we could pass a law to prohibit.

Whenever you feel pleased with what we have done-please also think of all that we’ve yet to do. Each of us is but one, but we can be one with each other. That choice is always ours.
-bill kenny

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