Tuesday, 12 July 2016

In search of a Good Samaritan

A sermon delivered by the Revd.Sunil Ghazan on Sunday, the 11th of July, 2016 at the Church of the Epiphany, Gurgaon put me into deep thought. The sermon was based on the question, 'Who is my neighbour', and I struggled to identify the 'Big Idea' behind the sermon itself! No doubt it was a hard hitting sermon which questioned the very premise of friendship, service towards humanity, and the idea of kindness that is non discriminatory, and non-judgemental. The sermon drew parallels from everyday life and that was the beauty of it. Deep down the sermon, it bacame clear how relevant parable of the Good Samaritan is even today as it was two thousand and sixteen years ago! I guess human nature does not really change too much down the years! If the message of the parable could be shared with the masses, it might be possible to sensitise people not to be mute spectators when road accidents and even other accidents take place, resulting in someone getting seriously injured. Many lives could be saved if only bystanders took the initiative and the trouble to offer assistance to those who are badly hurt.

Looking at today's times, especially the kind of stories appearing in the newspapers, it seems as if the kind of stories that sell are  about the apathy of bystanders resulting in the unfortunate deaths of people is on the rise in the newspapers. In many cases, badly injured people are left to die on the roads, often bleeding to death because of lack of first aid and early hospitalisation. This often happens even when there is a crowd of mute spectators gawping at the  hurt person, deriving somekind of vicarious pleasure out of another's pain. Often, one will come across the enthusiastic chronicler of the event with his mobile phone on the ready shooting stills and videos to be uploaded on the internet! One wonders often what has happened to make people so insensitive towards the suffering of others. People will often come up with a host of reasons why they did not rush to help the hapless victim of a road accident and some of these would include a hesitation about helping strangers. We have become so tied down by a list of who we should befriend and whom we should not that any one who doesn't reflect in the list is not a friend, thereby being a stranger who doesn't deserve our kindness and help. This exclusion of strangers from the list of friends simply because we don't know them, invariable sets them apart from our friends whom we would assist in times of need. Mr Lamb, in the play, "On the Face of it" by Susan Hill and also a lesson presecribed by the CBSE for English Core, Grade 12, makes it clear to Derry that he has lots of friends everywhere even if he does not know their names. Derry argues with Mr Lamb that passing people on the street and perhaps even speaking to them doesn't make them your 'friends'. to this Mr Lamb reasons that it doesn't mean they are nothing. Derry counters Mr Lamb's point suggesting, 'They're just...nothing.People.' It is exactly this attitude that makes us insensitive towards other people who are not our friends! So much pain and unnecesary suffering could have been avoided if only we accepted that we have as much duty towards the rest of humanity as we have to our own family members and friends thrown in. What we need to realise is that like Mr Lamb says to Derry in On the Face of It, "People are never just nothing.Never."

Some more of the standard excuses we would employ for not helping people who are in a bad state would be, I would be late to work and my program leader would scold me, the rationalist would get into questioning mode and ask the questions, why did the accident happen, what was she doing so late in the night and where were her friends at the time of the accident? The preacher would claim that that he had to rush to solmenise a wedding and that he was worried that if he stopped to help the injured man, then it might result in the postponement of the weddin due to the passing away of the auspicious hour for the couple to wed! The public servant would defend himself by suggesting that  since he was a public servant, he could not be involved in a legal issue resulting from a police case arising out of taking injured people to the hospital. The common man would perhaps just stand watch and take videos or stills of the dying man so that he might post it on a social networking site in order earn likes.

The difference between the times described in the parable of the Good Samaritan and our times is probably that the injured merchant was lucky enough to have at least one Good Samaritan to help him unlike the poor injured man lying by the roadside with lots of people staring at him. A country like France has a law called the Good Samaritan law which states that if anyone is injured or hurt in a roadside accident, then it is the duty of the first person who comes across him to take him to the hospital. It is high time we had the same law in our country,  a law that would fix the responsibility of taking injured persons to hospital, or perhaps even calling the emergency services and staying by the side of the injured person till the emergency personnel have arrived.

We all have excuses for not helping strangers who are in need of immediate help, and that includes even me. It is high time we tried to build  up a culture of sensitivity towards others, What we need to understand is that we need to progress from an individualistic attitude  towards a holistic attitude towards life. We need to realise that each act and each deed we do is bound to have repercusssions on the whole world, similarly our acts of ommision too would have an adverse impact on the social fabric. My act of ommission might one day even impact me when I am in the same situation as the injured man on the road whom I did not help. Enacting laws and rules that encourage a helping attitude towards strangers will be of no use unless they are supported by a culture of sensitivity and empathy towards others irrespective of whether we know them or not.

It all ends up in the question, that if I am to help my neighbour, then who accordingly is my neighbour? It is very clear from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, that neighbour doesn't necessary refer to someone we know, nor for that effect someone whose caste we share, nor, for that effect someone whose religion we share, someone whose language we share. The list would go on and never end. The word 'neighbour', does not also refer to the person or persons who live close to our houses. The word 'neighbour' apparanelty refers to all mankind, all humanity without distinctions based on caste, creed, religion, region, language, or even nationality.  A Good Samaritan, for that effect will be able to look at every human being he comes across as his neighbour. Your close family members and close friends don't qualify as 'neighbours' because they are part of your close circle. What counts is your sentivity and kindness towards people, strangers, those who cannot be categorised as family members, close friends, (whose names you know) and relatives. The Good Samaritan is thus one who can look at the whole world of human beings aside from family, relatives and friends with names as one huge neighobourhood, a community of human being towards whom we have a responsibility and a duty.

If we were to analyse the one single character trait that marked the Good Samaritan apart from the others who came across the badly battered gentleman lying on the road, then I guess that character trait was the trait of being able to feel empathy for a human being in need. What marks the Good Samaritan different from the priest and the Levite is his ability to display unconditional kindness towards the man who was roughed up by the robbers.

To make clear Jesus’ idea of what a Good Neighbour should be, and the implications of the actions of the Good Samaritan for us, I would like to quote from the Book Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25 to 37 which describes The Parable of the Good Samaritan:

A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus, “Teacher,” he asked, what must I do to receive eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “What to the scriptures say? How do you interpret them?”
The man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ “
“You are right,” Jesus replied; “Do this and you will live.”
But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”
Jesus answered, “There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead. It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by, on the other side. In the same way a Levite also came along and went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by, on the other side. But a Samaritan who was travelling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity. He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’”
And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbour towards the man attacked by the robbers?”
The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”
Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”

Kindness knows no religion, profession, nor economic disparity. Kindness is apparently, all about being non- discriminatory and non- judgemental. The answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” does not necessarily have to be some who has the same beliefs, language, or even ethnicity, rather a neighbour might also be a stranger who has a different language, religious beliefs, or even nationality. It doesn't mean however that Good Samaritans are hard to find today, although one might feel they are rare! An example in point is how in the late eighties when the Yezdi Motorcycle ruled the roads of India, along with the Enfield, I noticed how Yezdi owners always stopped on the road whenever their ilk ran out of petrol, and they were always ready to siphon petrol for the stranded vehicle. One might argue that this was out of a sense of fraternity for Yezdi motorcycle riders or that petrol costed a mere eight or nine Rupees, but still I feel there was a feeling of concern for other road users none the less! Unlike my cousin brothers who rode Yezdis, I had a scooter, a Vespa 150, and on a few occasions, when I ran out of petrol, there were other bikers who were ready to offer me petrol to reach the nearest petrol station! On one occasion when I ran out of petrol while rideing my Pulsar 150, a fellow motorcycle rider was kind enough to give me a push till the nearest petrol pump in Delhi. Another incident that comes to mind happened many years back when while returning from my duty in a school in Roop Nagar, I hit a brick on the road to Jhandewalan close to Karol Bagh, and fell down hurting myself. There were a couple of Motorcycle riders who picked me up and offered assistance as they could see that I was bleeding from a cut in one of my knees. I thanked them and told them that I was OK and continued riding my bike towards Mandir Marg. They followed me for some distance to see whether I was OK. Many a times it is incisdents such as these that inspire us and convince us that inspite of the many stories about injured people who are left to die on the highways, there are a few who will always come to your assistance. I guess Good Samaritans do exist in today's times, although, they might perhaps be a little harder to find in today's times.

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