A lone sojourner on his way from one city to the other was brutally attacked by hooligans. They beat him up mercilessly, looted his valuables and left him by the roadside to breathe his last. It was a scarcely treaded stretch of road and not many people passed that way. In a while, a priest came along that way. He saw the injured man. Not wanting to get himself into any mess, he took a detour and went the other way. The maimed man continued to battle for his life. In some more time, there came by another traveller who belonged to a respectable class in the society. He too saw the man and changed tracks. After yet some more time, another man who was not held with much regard in that part of the country, passed by. He saw the injured man and stopped on his tracks. He rushed towards him, bandaged his wounds, administered first aid, took him to the nearest inn and stayed with him the whole day to take care of him. The next day, he gave some money to the innkeeper urging him to take care of the injured man and that he would bear all the extra expenses on his way back from the errand for which he had to leave.
The third man in the above parable who helped the injured man has been nicknamed as the Good Samaritan (‘Good’ because of his good act, and ‘Samaritan’ because he hailed from a place called Samaria). And thus, the expression ‘Good Samaritan’ finds its way into common parlance in the English language.
How we all wish for the helping hand of a Good Samaritan in times of need! How we all yearn during rough patches that somebody would stop on his/her tracks to attend to us! Even if you are a very independent person, there would’ve been hours where you would’ve silently longed for assistance.
Being ‘people-centric’ comes with spontaneity to many, but not to most. Why don’t we focus on people more than what we do for ourselves? What holds us back?
- Individual personality traits – Altruism doesn’t come naturally to all. Some are simply less altruistic and so paying attention to the needs of others is not a dish on their menu. However, altruism is an attribute which if cultivated results in a lot of good to society. Then there are some who are timid, shy and docile to intervene in the lives of people around them. There are others who are too self-centered to shift their attention from ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’ to ‘them’ and ‘others’. Certain others are apathetic – they just fail to perceive the needs of others and make any sense of them.
- Bystander phenomenon – How many times have you passed by a scene of accident telling yourself that some others would step in to help the victim? This is called the bystander phenomenon in psychological terms and is present in most of us. We stand by and watch events unfold without stepping in to make a constructive difference, by convincing ourselves that there sure would be someone else who would offer assistance to the needy person. Most of us refrain from philanthropy for this very same reason, harbouring the notion that others are contributing towards that end.
- To avoid getting into trouble – The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 aims to provide protection to those who expose wrongdoing in government offices (in India). With such an Act in place, may people would have come forward to help the government machinery to function better. Sadly, this doesn’t happen! Rather, those who open their mouths find themselves embroiled in endless controversies causing them and their families untold miseries. People who help roadside accident victims, or the victims of mob violence or communal riots or eye-witnesses who volunteer to testify in courts of law end up being harassed and surrounded by endless controversies. Moreover, most people do not wish to get entangled with the seemingly unending and cumbersome legal procedures. The first person who offered assistance to the victims in the infamous Nirbhaya case and willingly volunteered to testify in the court of law has lost his private job because he had to make numerous appearances in the court leading to long periods of absence from work. So it is not simply a lack of will or motivation to help that prevents some from being people-centric, but the price that they end coughing up that makes them decide to keep away from the mess.
- ‘I am not affected’ – Many people turn away from helping others because they are not affected. ‘As long as I and my family are not affected, I need not bother’ is the latent thought process of many people. There are a few personal life experiences which open our minds to shed age-old notions and dogmas and be more helping towards certain sections of people. Some people whose houses get submerged under flood waters or shattered by earthquake are quicker to empathize towards similar others on later occasions. But till they go through a personal experience, they do not bother to budge.
- Mental schemas and societal stereotypes – In the parable mentioned in the beginning of this article, may be the priest who hesitated to help the injured man was afraid of defiling himself with blood or with a dead body in case of death of the man (there were strong rules of purity and defilement among the priestly clan in that culture). Taking an example from the caste system in Indian society (which is still quite vivid in rural India, though it is dissipating in most urban settings), people belonging to upper castes do not give access to water to those belonging to lower castes even in the scorching summer conditions. Though the Constitution makers incorporated Article 17 to abolish the practice of untouchability, it continues to raise its ugly head in various forms. Caste barriers, racial prejudices, religious and ethnic discrimination accompanied by the fear of excommunication stop people from focussing on certain others.
Most of us would find ourselves in one or more of the above mentioned categories (or even in some others) as to why we are less focussed on others. For some, it may even be simply a busy life schedule with hardly any time for self, leave alone for others. No matter what be the causal factors, all of us would definitely agree that we are not always ready to attend to people at all times. Mothers would agree that it causes them immense discomfort when guests pop in just the evening before their children’s exam. With all traits of efficient hospitability, it still becomes a grave dilemma to choose guests over helping the children with their lessons.
While ‘choice’ would continue to be a deciding factor, there are two golden principles that arch over all.
- Do unto others as you would have others do unto you – You expect others to attend to you in times of need, do your bit to attend to theirs when they need you. Identify the needs of at least those in your immediate periphery and reach out to them. Remember, needs of people are not always material, physical or external. Also, those in need may not always call out for help (just as you don’t, on many occasions). Just put yourself in each ones position in your immediate circle of loved ones and have a grip over some area in which they would desire you.
- Value others above yourselves – The moment you value someone above yourself, that person becomes the focus of your attention. And, you would definitely not shift your focus from those others who fall within the range of your radar. The Bible teaches – “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Let’s start small. No matter what be the reasons – personal, societal or systemic that prevent us from focussing on people around us and their interests, it is wise to make a conscious attempt to turn the floodlights outwards and then gradually increase their intensity for greater coverage.