I first heard this phrase, this question watching a TV show called the Good Place. It originates from a philosopher’s book with the same title (Scanlon), and lately this question keeps resurfacing.
The world is in crisis. In this modern era, we can bear witness to injustices near and far. We utilize subconsciously heuristics that make us pay more attention to communities more like our own.
I look around my room these days, grateful for the security I have. Grateful that war has not touched our shores. Grateful that my power is on, I have a job, and despite all the instability of the past few years, my life is still moving forward.
Yet, I wonder what my duty to others is.
This can be more local, daily life and beyond to communities in countries I’ve never stepped foot in.
When I know someone is need and I have the capacity to help somehow, I feel a responsibility to step up.
For instance, it is a frequent occurrence that people have emergencies, illnesses, ect at work. And when I can, I try to do whatever I can to help them, take their shifts or swap to stay late so others can leave early.
I don’t expect anything in return. I hope that when I need it, the same treatment will be reciprocated. There is not an expectation that my co-workers owe me anything as a result.
I think one of the lessons I have learned through the pandemic, is how important community is to our social, physical, emotional well-being. In times of crisis, the government is spread thin, the gaps are left to be filled by those we surround ourselves with.
National identity is something I have long struggled with. Governments’ priority are their domestic interests, related to the daily lives of their citizens, which I understand. I have never understood though prioritizing those interests to the detriment of other people (justifications for invasions, colonization of communities, ect.). At the end of it all, we all are human beings, with feelings and people we care about, trying to do the best we can in a world that is as imperfect as we are.
Leaders of countries and industries level interests that may not always align with the choices we as citizens would choose to make. Profit incentive. Ect.
At minimum, I tell myself it is my duty to pay attention to the pain of others. I hope that there is a day when I can use my resources to help more. For now, attention and donations to aid organizations is all I can offer. Yet is it enough?
If the U.S. was being attacked in the way that we are seeing Russia attack Ukraine, what would I hope that those like me in other countries would do? What would I expect?
I would hope they would care about the pain, would do whatever is in their means to do to help.
So, I am trying my best.
I guess more than anything, I have decided to combat the feelings of powerlessness I feel often hearing the news. I think we all have more power to change things than we realize. Our voices: written, one or unison, spoken, can make change possible.
I am one person. And I often ask myself what is in my power to make the world better. Over time, I have learned that it is in my actions and decisions daily. A smile to a stranger, a goodnight to my co-workers, my way of saying: “I see you too as a human, feeling being, trying to do the best you can, and I care that you are here”.
The world is large, yes, but that does not mean we don’t have the power to make a difference somehow. With social media, we have more the ability to make a bigger difference than previous generations. We can call attention to injustices not only in our own communities, but in others far away from us.
And there isn’t anything wrong with trying to make it through your own day. Focusing on surviving day-to-day life and what is tangible to you. For me, life is now stable enough that I feel it is my duty to help others be… okay. I can’t ignore it or turn it off. Every decision I make is more about the world I’d like to see one day, a world where hope is in abundance and headlines aren’t as grave as the ones we see now.
So, what do we owe each other?
I guess, I would conjecture here, at a minimum we should care about others. Not limited to those we interact with, but to the struggles that people all over are facing. To be kind to others, because each person has a story: from the grocery store clerk to the world leaders, we hear about on the news.
I share this more to offer hope, a sense of power because I think many of us are struggling to see how we can do anything about the huge problems in the world we live in. Natural disasters, economic crisis, pandemic, wars, human rights violations, poverty, inequalities, ect. I don’t want to tell myself other people are working to fix it; I want to do my part in trying to make these things better. And, we all have some power to.