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January 3, 2017 / Congau

Ethical Responsibility

We are responsible for everything, for anyone and all the time. You are always your brother’s keeper. The drowning man, who you refuse to help, is your heavy guilt, but any other needy person on this earth is also an item on your conscience. There is no limit to what we could have done and should have done to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings.

Ethics cannot be an enclosed system of rules which you can slavishly follow and think that you will automatically be freed from guilt. None of us does enough and we can always do more. You cannot refuse to help that drowning person you pass on your way claiming that he is outside of your jurisdiction and that the law doesn’t require you to sacrifice your dry clothes. You could have helped and therefore you should have helped.

But what could we not have done? A drowning person somewhere far away in Africa may also have been rescued if we had taken precautions. We know that people are hungry and cold and suffer abuse, but we don’t do anything. Every one of us is responsible and guilty of neglect. Of course we are not supermen and even with our best efforts we could not reach far, but we could all have reached farther than we do. We cannot hide behind formal responsibility for moral responsibility knows no boundaries.

You may say that we are more to blame for neglecting to aid someone who is directly before our eyes. Maybe, but distance and inconvenience don’t acquit us.

Human laws have to draw lines and define areas of responsibility, or else it wouldn’t be possible to judge the conduct of the members of society. But those boundaries are in fact artificial and serve an organizational purpose. There is no real limit to responsibility and you could always strain your effort even further.

This does sound like a frightening demand, and in a way it is, but on the other hand, since the requirements are not clearly defined, they are also open and relaxed. All one can say is: Do your best.

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