This morning I was intrigued by a blogger’s article called “The Drowning Child“. At 15 years old, Saania is wise beyond her years and constantly looking for ways to expand her thinking. Her comment feed is a hub of lively discussion and a time of personal reflection.
Saania explores Peter’s stance in this particular scenario:
“Peter Singer is an Australian philosopher who created a thought experiment called The Drowning Child, in 2009.
In this thought experiment, we imagine ourselves walking down the street. Suddenly, we notice a girl drowning in a lake. We have the ability to swim, and we are also close enough to save her life if we take action immediately. However, doing so will ruin our expensive shoes. Do we still have an obligation to save her?
Peter’s answer to this question is yes. We do have a responsibility to save the life of a drowning child and price is no object. If we agree with him on this statement, it leads us to a salient thought-provoking question: If we are obligated to save the life of a child in need, is there a fundamental difference between saving one who is right in front of us and one on the other side of the world?”
I couldn’t help but read the various responses. I’ve read comments along the lines of “Let me take off my shoes, and then dive in to save the girl!” or how there are many charitable organizations whose donations go to other costs rather than the cause itself. There’s many aspects to explore in Peter’s statement.
When I was a young girl, I almost drowned in a lake one summer.
We were celebrating a family reunion with a BBQ by a gorgeous lake nestled between a heavily forested area that provided lots of shade. Many other families were also enjoying their time and the whole area was packed.
My cousins wanted to cool down and decided to take me to the deep part of the lake. We were splashing each other and having fun.
They were supporting me until one of our parents called us to let us know that the BBQ is ready. Hungry, they started to swim back to shore and left me hanging without a life jacket.
I didn’t know how to swim at the time, but I was trying to learn as quickly as possible. I was sinking fast. I choked on a lot of water I swallowed and slowly couldn’t breathe.
Even with so many people around me, no one was coming to my rescue, and I was unable to call out for help. I couldn’t blame them, they weren’t life guards and were focused on enjoying their time.
I paddled my hands and arms to push myself to the surface, and focused on a point at the shore that I wanted to reach. I kicked my legs in that direction and crawled over there.
Eventually, just as I was getting closer to shore, my cousin spotted me unaware of the ordeal I went through and pulled me the rest of the way.
Thinking back to that fateful day, I wonder. Hundreds of people were there. Did anyone at the lake that day have an obligation to save me? Even if they knew I was drowning, would they?
I’m reminded of a psychology concept I read years ago in class called “Theory of Diffusion of Responsibility” by John Darley and Bibb Latane.
The more spectators there are, the less likely it is any one of them will actually help. When someone needs help, the spectators assume someone else will step in. Someone else will “do something.” But, the outcome of this individual way of thinking is that in the end none of the spectators will bother to step in. And the responsibility will end up spreading thin among the whole group. This means no one will take responsibility.“Kitty Genovese, the Girl who Screamed and Nobody Helped”
My mother once described a situation where a young man dived in to save her sister from drowning in the ocean. The current was pulling her downward, and the young man risked his own life to save her sister.
She will never forget his heroism. I’m grateful for the people who take initiative.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who won’t do anything about it”Albert Einstein
Charity & Social Conscience
Finally, I want to explore this last thought-provoking question:
“If we are obligated to save the life of a child in need, is there a fundamental difference between saving one who is right in front of us and one on the other side of the world?”
I will be exploring this question more in Part 2 of my reflections in this philosophical question, but I’m immediately reminded of a quote:
Charity begins at home, is the voice of the world: yet is every man his greatest enemy.Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, 1642
Some people have interpreted this to mean take care of your own family first before being kind and generous to others. Others take it to mean children should first learn what it means to be charitable in their home.
Often times, I wonder if people decide to help those who are immediately closest to them because they see an immediate effect from their actions.
Being in close proximity allows for the opportunity to develop a relationship with the person you’re helping. Increased exposure may help the two parties develop familiarity.
I also think of the differences between generous acts vs. generous people. Corporate responsibility vs a genuine desire to help as well.
There are so many facets to think about. Thanks for tagging along my thoughts today. I will be posting Part 2 tomorrow! 🙂