Good samaritans absent from economic policy

I was brought up on the parable of the good Samaritan. It was part of a staple diet of stories from the Bible’s Old Testament which were told at school and at home to pass on important human values from parents to children.

It’s a well-known story with an important message but possibly the most interesting thing is that although this tale came from the Middle East in “biblical times”, every culture across all continents has precisely the same message told in different stories. From the ancient cultures of Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa and Australia parables or fables were used to express community values and pass them on to following generations. Maori culture is no different and has its myths, legends and stories expressing the same age-old values.

Perhaps this is the reason there has been such huge disquiet about the stream of climbers who passed by the dying Briton, David Sharp, last week on the slopes of Mount Everest. Sharp had reached the summit and was 300 metres down on the return journey when he succumbed to the harsh conditions and lay huddled under a rock – close to death.

It was clearly a difficult situation and many reasons have been given for the fact that only some rudimentary effort was made to give assistance. We have been told he was virtually already dead; he was not as well prepared as he should have been; help was too far away; other climbers were focused on their own self-survival in torrid conditions; he would have died anyway etc

These are all reasons given why little was done but none of them constitutes an excuse. David Sharp deserved the help he was denied. If 40 people had the resources both personal and in equipment to continue 300 metres to the top of the mountain after passing him by then they had the resources to help. They didn’t.

The British climber may well have died in any case but that’s not the point. He speaks from photos as a young man who loved life and enjoyed its challenges. He may well have made serious errors of judgement in terms of his preparations but that’s human frailty. The very least that could have been done was to stay with him as he died, something which may have given some comfort to his family. It would have been nice to think that a New Zealander who had previously been rescued himself from a mountain by others who had risked their lives for him would have stayed with David Sharp to the end. Without wanting to sound like a Southern Baptist Minister – he was a brother!

It’s good to see so many people, Sir Edmond Hillary in particular, reasserting the role of the good Samaritan in our community and the values the role reflects. The same can’t be said for views from the moral graveyard which is talkback radio.

However if we look more broadly at what it means to be a good Samaritan in New Zealand today and around the world, the picture is bleak.

It’s a world where 30,000 children die of starvation and related diseases every day of the year while a single oil company makes $34 billion in profit. We stand by and watch. Most of us are disturbed but we don’t get angry or angry enough.

At its heart is a deep insecurity that most middle income people have that if we rock the economic boat and demand greater justice then we may become displaced from our relatively comfortable positions.

Instead we resort to finding reasons why it isn’t our fault and we often blame the victims in much the same way as those at fault on the mountain find reasons to blame David Sharp’s death on himself.

Here in New Zealand the poor in our community now account for a large and growing proportion of our population and we are encouraged to blame them for their plight. We easily buy the line that they are lazy, drug wracked, dirty, violent and morally weak with criminal tendencies. They don’t take the opportunities that are there and avoid jobs that are plentiful. Others have dragged themselves out of poverty so why not them? They are to blame for their own situation. It’s all nonsense of course.

It’s easier to be a good Samaritan to a climber on a mountain or to miners trapped underground or to an injured puppy but we fail to be good Samaritans regarding our economic policies which create more human victims every day.

We don’t need just good Samaritans – we need bloody-angry good Samaritans.

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