Girlfriend is Better
This is a brief passage from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. (It is, incidentally a passage that is characteristic of the sentiment of the book, but not of its story.) The story has little to do with the quote; the book tells the story of Tomas, a pleasure-seeking doctor who falls in love and marries a young woman named Tereza. Despite Tomas' intense love for Tereza, he continues to struggle with his desire to sleep with new and different women and staying faithful to his wife.
There are a few points that come to mind when considering this quote.
I considered the general idea of "true human goodness" being measured by the actions of people (not animals, which I believe aren't as important anyway) towards those who are at their mercy in the context of the tsunami victims, or prisoners, or hostages, or any other group of people in the charge of another. The Stanford Prison Experiment is a perfect example of this, as is the recent abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
To make it particularly relevant, the South-East Asian tsunamis* provide another opportunity to display with prominence the possibility of man's indifference to suffering. This from the The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog:
"In the first arrest in a nationwide crackdown on tsunami relief scams, the FBI took a Carrick man into custody yesterday morning on charges of flooding the Internet with spam solicitations for a bogus relief fund so he could pay to fix his car.
Matthew Z. Schmieder, 24, who lives in a rented brick duplex on Crailo Street, admitted to the FBI that he sent out 800,000 e-mails purporting to be from the Mercy Corps, an international group of humanitarian agencies, according to an affidavit."
Another point I found interesting was a quote I read in a New Zealand newspaper on the amount of aid NZ was offering, and why. The quote, coming from a member of parliament said that they were upping the amount of aid they offered because of the high number of "missing and confirmed dead Kiwi travelers in the area." It seemed strange that aid to countries where thousands were killed would have to be justified on the basis that a few Kiwi citizens were amongst them.
Taking in the consideration the basic truth of Kundera's statement, these examples paint a pretty grim picture of human nature. I'd love to think that people tend to be fair and just about things, but that only tends to be if they know someone is looking (hence the continuing aid to SE Asia from countries saying that they want to "match public donations"). (That idea in general should be reason enough to employ transparency in government, business, and personal morality--it keeps us honest.) What does it say about us if we can't help people simply because they need it? Conversely, what does it say about us when it hurts us to see that some people defraud others with the guise of assisting those in need? Why do we find it repugnant when our leaders have to defend us as "not stingy"? Mankind seems to be as full of confusion and indecision as Tomas.
*Incidentally, some very effective before-and-after photos of areas hit by the tsunami can be seen here.