Guilt shouldn’t be factor in helping

By Tibor Machan: Freedom New Mexico columnist

It is a running joke, of course, concerning some mothers that they relentlessly try to instill guilt in their children along lines of, “You owe me since I brought you up.” Never mind now that bringing up children is something parents usually sign up for freely and it is a fair assumption that they do so for reasons of their own.

In times like these, when a good many of those in some parts of the globe are hit with catastrophes, most decent people not experiencing plight ponder just what they might be able to do to help. Sending some supplies or money is the usual, normal and sensible answer.

Yet there are those among us who jump at the chance to indict all who are doing reasonably well in these times of confusion and uncertainty, by claiming that we owe everything to those in dire straits; that any joy we experience during these days must be denied a place in one’s life since it would be an insult and affront to those who suffer and who have perished.

I was on my morning constitutional, walking past some homes in my neighborhood, and I heard laughter coming from some porches or kitchens. I thought it was a welcome sign that the world isn’t quite going to hell in a handbasket, that people go on with their lives even when some others are having a really bad time of it. And that is just as it should be.

But I can tell you, from having read the writings of some very influential people, including academics, that that is not what some people in prestigious places would want from us all. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, for example, that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” If one takes these proclamations seriously, one will defeat the very thing in one’s own life that one is being urged to help support in the lives of others people, namely personal well being and happiness.

The other side of the coin, however, isn’t to stick one’s head in the sand and pay no attention to how others, even total strangers, are faring. In clear emergencies, such as what is happening right now in Haiti, decent human beings will take some of their time or resources and chip in not because they may not be happy without doing so but because no such individual ignores the plight of other people who are facing sudden drastic circumstances.

Clearly, a proper concern for the bad lot of one’s fellow human beings does not entail by any stretch of the imagination the adoption of an ascetic life of one’s own. Showing care for the mishaps of others cannot even be effective if one proceeds to join them in their misery!