9 Oct 2007

Thought for the day

On Saturday morning, I was lying in bed half listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio when someone called Catherine Pepinster came on to give her Thought for the day. This is a short daily slot in the middle of a popular news and current affairs show, which is described by the BBC as, 'reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news.' I have listened to it hundreds of times, usually unwittingly. It is often bland, preachy, irrelevant and occasionally, yep, thought provoking.

On Saturday the subject was; Can reciprocal altruism really explain the most extraordinary sacrifices that some people make?

It included the following lines, available here in the transcript;

Yet can reciprocal altruism really explain the most extraordinary sacrifices that some people make? Can genes really explain the price paid by Fr Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger at Auschwitz.
I suspect he was more driven by Christ's admonition that we love our enemies, do good, and expect nothing in return. From time to time one comes across an example of altruism, of sheer goodness that no biologist could ever explain.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine took a year out of his own life to accompany a man suffering from a terrible degenerative disease on a tour of America. For 12 long months Joe drove Billy across the United States in a car specially adapted for his wheelchair, caring for him, helping to wash and feed him. He had no reason to do it other than a sense of fellowship. Joe won't be embarrassed by me mentioning this; he died suddenly this week, 10 months after Bruce's own death. Joe's story illuminates that being truly human takes far more than being a biological construct. Words don't always stretch far enough to explain it. A Christian might say it reveals the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But all of us would agree that it is love.

I woke up slightly more as I heard these words, and my response was a bit sweary. This woman, had just compared a man sacrificing his life for a stranger in a Nazi death camp, to her friend's decision to travel around the US for a year while working as staff to a disabled person?! Am I missing something?

Look at the language used, her friend 'took a year out of his own life to accompany a man suffering from a terrible degenerative disease'.

How did he take this year from his own life? Was he in a coma? No, he was working, possibly for low pay, or perhaps even just for expenses, and getting the chance to travel around America, presumably seeing the sights and staying in nice places. All this, for '12 long months'. Were they travelling extremely fast in that 'car specially adapted for his wheelchair', and perhaps experiencing some time dilation?

'He had no reason to do it other than a sense of fellowship.'
Was he forced to take the job? Did he not enjoy it? Was there really no other reason than a 'sense of fellowship'? Perhaps Joe too wanted to travel around the US and this provided a good opportunity. Perhaps Joe and Billy got on really well and had an absolute blast on their road trip, no matter that one of them required services from the other. I hope so.

It's terribly sad that both these young men died so soon after each other, one's death being presumably sudden and unexpected. But it's sad that the people left behind are interpreting that time as a terrible waste of a year in his life. What should he have been doing instead?

Loads of us are caring for a disabled person. That's not a 'most extraordinary sacrifice', it's just life. And especially when a person's job is to care for another, that's just work. It's good and worthwhile work, not well enough paid, and from what I hear, there are some excellent staff out there supporting and enabling their clients.


VAB said...

Indeed. What is more, people routinely take care of each other on many different levels and in many different ways. None of us are independent, even if our support systems may be very dispersed. With the exception of the guy living in the shack out in the backwoods, we all rely on each other for help, services and support. In fact, the more successful a person is, the more they tend to rely on others. Likewise, we all have jobs supporting other people. That is the nature of both society and commerce.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thoughts on this topic. I agree with you that she simply didn't seem to consider a whole bunch of other reasons, like how Joe wanted to see the country, or just thought the trip would be an amazing experience in general. Why did it have to be a "sacrifice" for him because his friend had a disability? It seems almost like sometimes people feel the need to "glorify" an action, so to speak ("Oh, yes, what a brave man, he took a year out of his life") because they cannot understand why someone would do what they were doing otherwise. Hopefully that makes sense. :)

Ps hope the cuckoo clock is working out well!!

Sharon McDaid said...

VAB, thanks for making that essential point about our interdependency.

Ekc, I don't know why people have to do that. In this case, perhaps the speaker couldn't imagine herself doing that work, and reckons that anyone who could must be some kind of hero or angel.