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The Good Samaritan in a Modern Age

So we have all probably been in this situation: you drive by someone having car troubles and it automatically crosses your mind (being the moral person that you are) that you ought to help them out. If you're as morally minded as the great Mithrandir, you don't just feel morally obligated to help them out, you actually want to help them out. Just a five minute drive to the gas station and back to their car is all they need and it would be so easy for you to accommodate. But if you ever went to elementary school or were ever taught lessons by your parents, you know at least one thing: don't get into a car with a stranger. I mean, that's obvious, right? But no one ever said anything about the other way around: never let a stranger into your car. Or should we? Well, that's the question you will have to answer when you see that stranded soul in need of a lift. Could the person you want to help be a serial killer or any sort of dangerous criminal? Not likely, but it's possible. And it is here we see that we have a classic instance of a potentially high risk, low probability circumstance. In other words, helping out this person could lead to the worst of all possible circumstances, say, death or severe torture. But at the same time, what are the chances? Again, very low.

There are other things that we do that are also potentially high risk, low probability. Car driving itself is one example. Fatal accidents are rare but they do and can happen. Yet, we still do it and don't discourage it among others. But perhaps the difference between this action and the action of picking up strangers in an attempt to help them out is that the former (driving) is more or less necessary in a modern world whereas the latter (picking up strangers) isn't.

So is playing the part of the Good Samaritan in the situation of stranded drivers a smart thing to do? If you are like me, you are a person who likes to help others but also one who is cautious. And I'm sorry to say, I don't have the answer to the question. Better safe than sorry seems like a generally good rule of thumb to live by. But what about in those cases where the probability of being sorry are astronomically low? Maybe sometimes we just have to live with a bit of risk in our lives. But how can we do that when it is so easy to drive on by?

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Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. 07/29/2008 at 6:43 am

    also, does the answer (if one is concluded) differ based on whether it is a man or a woman driving? sometimes i think that i would have less of a concern if i were a man. not that nothing bad ever happens to men, or that all men are macho, or whatever, but the scenario of a man attacking or otherwise harming a woman seems more plausible to me than it does any other scenario. then, vice versa, i wonder whether a woman should accept help from a man. it sucks that people can't help people anymore because we know so much about the other bad things that happen in the world. it's the price we pay for being well-informed.

  2. 07/29/2008 at 2:25 pm

    Yeah, I suppose gender does make a difference to the probability factor. Good point.And
    I like how you put it at the end: "it's the price we pay for being
    well-informed." Perhaps I should have titled the article, "The Good
    Samaritan in an Age of Information." 🙂

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