The Good Samaritan

One very common aspect of walking the streets around here is having children say to you “give me sweet (candy)”. Near the top of the local high point this has gotten so bad at times that the children have started throwing pebbles if they don’t get what they want. I often wonder where they got the idea that white people would give them sweets but then I see short term visitors giving out whatever they have on them or candy brought just for that purpose. Adults are much more socialized than that. Many will greet you or ask you to come talk to them, give a very good hand shake that will then pull you towards them as they ask for school fees (or a bicycle or to take them to America). It is one thing to give an orange to an orphan (great vitamins) or a loaf of bread to a street kid sniffing glue to stave off hunger, but candy is not good for the child, it can only be used to build a relationship.

This attitude of white people coming and giving stuff was most painful when five foreigners and 35 Kenyans went to a local village to help build a house for two families of orphan children. Most comments towards the end were very positive, but one person talked about how they were happy that the white people came and fixed this problem in their village.

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I saw the harmful effects of giving out things on the street but I realized that I would give things to the kids of missionaries at the hospital but would not give out the same thing to a kid on the street who could use the thing (food, pen, whatever) far more. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the difference is that one gift builds up a relationship while the other undermines it.

Not only does a gift on the street alter any future interaction with the kids, but as the trend continues as the children grow up it becomes a learned dependency or what a psych textbook might call an external locus of control. Then an individual thinks that their actions don’t determine their life. In some cases this attitude is justified (injustice or a westerner’s good intentions swamping their efforts), but it is never helpful.

The “Good Samaritan” has been enormously diluted in our usage. Now, anyone who does something nice to a stranger is called a “Good Samaritan”. In the actual parable, the Samaritan didn’t just do a kind act, he helped the injured Jew up, to a hotel, cared for him over the night, and then had the inn keeper take care of him and left the money for the job and giving an open promise to pay for any further needs. The Jew had been ignored by his own people who either didn’t know how or didn’t care to help.

A business ethics teacher of mine defined ethics as the character of courage and creativity to do the right/best/proper thing. We usually realize that the moral life requires courage, but we too often see our options in terms of dichotomies.

The Good Samaritan was first Good because he stepped up and acted with care, but was special because he had the creativity and commitment to take ensure that the right thing happened for the injured.

In our every day life we see a set of decisions to give or not to give but we too seldom think about what action is best for the individual in the long term. Giving a kid a candy isn’t truly good for them, though it is nice. Meeting with an adolescent, playing with a child, developing relationships where we set an example or fulfill a real need is how we truly love. It is the difference between helping someone and loving them, taking their good as your goal.

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