Be That “Someone Else”

I have been looking for an inspiration with which to write this post for an entire week. And I’ve finally got it. 

In my AP European History class this year, I am currently working on writing a paper about Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which discusses Adolf Eichmann, a major player in the Holocaust, and his trial held in Jerusalem following his capture from Argentina. The most interesting part of the book lies in the fact that Eichmann himself was not an outright evil person. He did not have the same sort of insane and inhumane desires, which many members of the Nazi Party did have, to eliminate the Jewish population from Europe altogether. In fact, although Eichmann had worked his way up among the ranks to be a powerful individual within the Nazi Party, he did not hate the Jews at all. In fact, he knew many of them growing up. He had joined the Nazi Party as an act of boredom and distraction when he didn’t have another job. And it was never Eichmann who pulled the trigger, who ordered the Jews to give up their families and their personal belongings, who activated the gas chambers. No. Eichmann stood passively as six million innocent Jews died before his very eyes and did nothing about it. He never actually killed anyone. Ever. Jew or Non-Jew. He just watched it happen. He allowed it to happen. But he himself didn’t do anything terribly torturous on his own.

At his trial, Eichmann claimed to be innocent. He repeatedly said that he himself did not kill anyone and therefore should not be responsible for what happened to the Jews. After all, he declared, there were far more involved members of the Nazi Party who had done the damage with their own bare hands. Is he right? If Eichmann himself didn’t commit a crime, does that make him innocent, even though he completely desensitized himself to his surroundings of Jews being killed and starved and tortured all around him.

All this writing and thinking about Eichmann really got me thinking. If someone passively watches a child in Africa starve to death, or even if someone passively knows about how children in Africa are starving to death and does nothing about it, what does that make him or her? How could anyone let that happen? Or, what if someone knows about the lack of educational opportunities in a third-world country, and yet spends his or her life surrounded with books and technology, all while complaining about the copious amounts of homework. What does that make him or her? 

Now in no way am I comparing our human-natured tendencies to complain or to watch from afar at the evil and the hardships of this world all while doing nothing about them to what Eichmann witnessed while he worked for the Nazi Party. All I am saying is that we need to stop being passive. 

When you watch something in the news or read something in the newspapers that really hits home for you–a child who is diagnosed with cancer and cannot afford the proper treatment and is looking for funds–we have to stop thinking to ourselves that someone else will do something about it. Someone else will donate to the child’s treatment. Someone else. But in truth what’s happening is that other people are reading that same story or watching that same news report, and do you know that they’re thinking? Someone else will help. Someone else will handle this situation. 

If everyone continues to think that “Someone Else” is going to step in and save the world from all its problems, then guess what? Nothing is ever going to get done in this world. Ever. 

Be that person. Step up and become the “Someone Else.” Don’t let your passivity completely desensitize you to the aching and needy world all around you. Believe me, there are lots of problems out there in the world that need your help. Your time, your effort, your prayers, your money, your energy, your everything. 

I once heard that we are the ones causing world hunger. It’s not the fact that we don’t have enough resources to go around for the number of people living in this world. No, it’s our selfish and passive tendencies that hoard food to ourselves before giving it away to others that prevent people halfway across the world from getting the food they need. We have to stop being passive. We have to be that “Someone Else.” There’s no other option if we want to see this world turn around.

–Sarah

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2 thoughts on “Be That “Someone Else”

  1. Thanks, nice post! I agree with you. I found this argument from Peter Singer very persuasive; he gives it both in his book The Life You Can Save and his 1972 paper Famine, Affluence and Morality:

    On your way to work, you pass a small pond. On hot days, children sometimes play in the pond, which is only about knee deep. The weather’s cool today, though,and the hour is early, so you are surprised to see a child splashing about in the pond. As you get closer, you see that it is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. You look for the parents or babysitter, but there is no-one else around. The child is unable to keep his head above the water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown. Wading in is easy and safe, but you will ruin the new shoes you bought only a few days ago, and get your suit wet and muddy. By the time you hand over the child to someone responsible for him, and change your clothes, you’ll be late for work. What should you do?

    Singer says that, when he asks this question, everyone says that you must save the child — that to not do so would make you a monster — but the outcome of believing this is to also believe that we all regularly allow people to die for not much more than the cost of an expensive pair of shoes, just because they live in another country to us. (In the book, he also gives defenses to arguments about diffusion of responsibility and the efficiency of charities.)

    I think this argument’s persuasive even if we did nothing to push the child into the lake ourselves, but I think Singer would further argue that we’re not innocent of many of the avoidable deaths he’s talking about by analogy. If we believe in human-caused climate change, for example, we must also believe that it’s by and large something rich countries are doing to poor countries: a rich person in the USA is barely going to be affected by it, because it’s possible to move to a higher city or to import grain when our own country has a grain crop failure, as the USA did last year. For the global poor, a grain crop failure could mean that an entire country goes hungry.

    It’s good not to get too pessimistic about the whole thing, though. Here’s another Singer article that argues that we’re closer to ending extreme poverty than ever before: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/magazine/17charity.t.html?pagewanted=all

    • Wow! What an eye-opening article. He is very right about the poverty in this world. There are so many pressing issues that we have to be aware of as time passes in this world. Thank you so much for this comment! Feel free to follow my blog to receive email updates on the project as we continue!
      –Sarah

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