Sunday, November 1, 2015

Strength of Character or of His Budweiser Tallboy?

An individual you know from your lurking hours at a coffee shop, with whom you are on a first-name basis, and who is wheel-chair bound, catches the wheel of his chair on some unseen obstacle.  The chair tilts, then falls, spilling the man onto the pavement.  You call out his name, ask if he wishes help.  He is emphatic.  "Thank you, no," spoken as though punctuated with an exclamation point.

Nevertheless, two other individuals rush to his side, one of them righting the wheelchair.  "Please stand back,"  the fallen man says.  "Please respect my wishes."

The man who righted the wheel chair says, "But you need help."

"No, thank you, I don't." the fallen man says.  He begins to roll into a sitting position, from which he is able to reach the wheelchair, bring it toward him, then begin to lever himself to a posture from which he can slide into the wheelchair with ease.  His ordeal is not over, the second man, appearing to be shaking with what you interpret as an eagerness to help, approaches, places his hands under the fallen man's armpits, then begins to lift.  "Here,"  he says, "just relax.  I've got it."

"Won't you please step back?"  the fallen man says, managing to shake free from the second man's grip.  With one adroit shift of his body weight, he is now seated in his wheelchair.

The second man appears agitated.  "I was just trying to help."

"You didn't listen to me.  I didn't need help.  I know I could have asked and I know what to do if I am alone and need help.  I appreciate the concern.  I appreciate your willingness."

The man who attempted to right the fallen wheelchair now approaches the second man, speaks to him.  "Aw, come on,"   he says.  "He's the kind of person who's probably sue us for trying to help."

The man in the wheelchair, who drives a late model Mercedes-Benz which he bought from his earnings, does not need to sue people who are trying to help.  Rather, he provides, from the scene you witnessed, a stark scenario involving an unplanned accident, and offered help, a polite and thankful acknowledgment of help and a wish to cope with the circumstances.

This is one example of the social contract at work and your wondering if the fallen man should have accepted the offer of help out of consideration for his would-be rescuers or, as he wished, cope with the problem according to his perception of how he could do so by himself.

Not long after that event, as you sat in another coffee shop, a man approached you, apologized for interrupting your concentration (you were writing in longhand on a legal pad) by saying, "Sorry to interrupt your writing, but I just had to tell you something."

You looked up, smiled, nodded encourage for him to tell you the something he had to tell you.  Not many sentences later, he was thanking you for your last book which, he assured you, changed his life.  His tone told you his intentions were cordial and complementary.  Within a few more sentences, you knew he'd mistaken you for someone else, in fact a writer for whom you have less admiration than scorn.

His appreciation was tangible enough to cause you a qualm.  If you were now to alert him to the mistaken identity, you ran the risk of embarrassing him.  Seeing the position you were now in, you realized how to deal with the problem in an ethical way.  Speaking, as it were, for the author for whom you were mistaken and do not especially care for, you invited him closer, reminded him of one of your favored writers, Bertrand Russell, who was allowing himself to grow or evolve from one approach to another with a rapidity you admired.  

You then spoke of how you had changed your views from the thrust he'd described into one you felt to be more reasonable.  Still being the advocate for the writer you do not appreciate, you thanked his reader for approaching you as he had.  In consequence, he'll always believe he achieved bonding contact with a favorite writer, one who took the time to hang out with him for a while before the need to return to his handwritten notes.

This encounter also demonstrates the concern for not allowing a fellow human to embarrass himself any more than he ordinarily might, yet simultaneously blurring the lines of contact and honesty, nevertheless.

One last example from many relevant to this discussion:  While walking through a funky portion of downtown Ventura, you saw a man propped against the side of a building, asleep, passed out, or engaged in some Transcendental reverie, a tall boy of Budweiser between his legs.  You were aware of the kind of moral obligation you're pleased to recognize and even more pleased when you act on it.  You drew the conclusion that the man was indeed passed out rather than pursuing any meditative state.  Should you have stopped, crouched nearby, roused the man to inquire, Are you asleep, drunk, or in some meditative state?

From your own experiences with these conditions, you factored in your potential for irritation were you brought to consciousness by someone asking you these questions.  Although more often than not at some distance from you now, you recalled the times before being discharged from the hospital by being awakened from the most soothing and pleasurable remove from pain and discomfort relative to having cancerous tissue removed from you, then factored in the results as a part of your decision to allow the leaning man to sleep or meditate onward.

These three examples--three robins do not make a spring--of behavior and its lack, of moral choice, of obligation, and, at the least, respect for individual decisions and dignity,  They should also obtain for characters, creations of your imagination, to be sure, but individuals nevertheless whom you would set forth as participants in story.  You would also hope for readers to see these characters set in similar positions where moral, social, and ethical choices were involved.  

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