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Caring for your neighbour

Wednesday, July 6, 2022 (11:59)

Last month we had a walk in Brussels with some friends. At some moment there was one of those rental e-scooters lying across the pavement. Of course I picked it up and placed it next to the wall. One of my friends argued: “Be careful! Don’t touch it! If you break it, or if you damage some car, or if somebody else gets hurt by it later, you will be the one to blame.” I said “But it’s much more likely that somebody will get hurt if I leave it here in the middle of the pavement!” She replied: “That does not concern you. The guy who left it here like this is responsible in that case. Your ‘good deed’ relieves this guy from his responsibility and actually increases injustice and suffering.”

She recalled another situation, more than ten years ago, where she happened to sit close to a groaning, bleeding man in a subway station in Berlin. She and the people around her had been wondering whether to intervene. And for her the situation had been clear: “Don’t intervene! Maybe this guy is just playing and actually just waits for me to help him so he can ambush me. Maybe he was drunk and hurt himself when falling down. Maybe somebody else ambushed him. Anyway it’s not my business.”

I have heard some guru say similar things, advising to not help refugees because it’s just symptom therapy and won’t eradicate the evil by its roots.

It may indeed be a characteristic principle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One of the basic Christian rules is to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and Mark 12:31). And when asked by a lawyer “who is my neighbour”, Jesus explains that everybody can become your neighbour, even a foreigner or enemy (Luke 10:25-37).

Another controversial opinion here is the question whether not doing something can be a sin. I believe that not considering, saying or doing something that needs to be considered, said or done (a “negative” or “inactive” sin) is as much my responsibility as a “positive” or “active” sin. Of course there is a limit. I need to do my best – but not more. Seen like this, I can reconcile with my friend by saying that she was not able to pick up that e-scooter because she is suffering from depression (or however you call it).

Some days ago the Belgian government introduced relatively strict laws for regulating usage of e-scooters in public space (Belgium shows courage regarding e-scooter regulation).

My friend is obviously a bit too anxious. But her fear is justified. There are real-live stories where individuals had to suffer because they had “loved their neighbour as themselves” and maybe even acted against human law, risking their money, their career or even their life.

Where is the bug? Who is to blame? It is obviously a collective sin.