Dogs, Strangers And Your Humanity
Awhile ago, a human- interest story from South Africa was reported internationally. As described in The Wall Street Journal:
“On Aug. 4, Graham and Sheryl Anley, while yachting off the coast of South Africa, hit a reef, capsizing their boat. As the boat threatened to sink and they scrambled to get off, Sheryl’s safety line snagged on something, trapping her there. Instead of freeing his wife and getting her to shore, Graham grabbed Rosie, their Jack Russell terrier. (One media account reported that Sheryl had insisted that the and sound, Graham returned
Since the 1970s, I have asked students if they would - ing dog or a drowning stranger. And for 40 years I have received the same results: One-third vote for their dog, one-third for the stranger, and one-third don’t know what they would do.
In The Wall Street Journal column, Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, reported about another such experiment:
“A recent paper by Richard Topolski at George Regents University and colleagues, published in the journal Anthrozoos, demonstrates this human i nvolvement with pets to a startling extent. Participants in the study were told a hypothetical scenario in which a bus is hurtling out of control, bearing down on from more than 500 people, the answer was that it depend what kind of dog?
“Everyone would save a sibling, grandparent or close friend rather than a strange dog. But when people considered their own dog versus people less connected with them — a distant cousin or a hometown stranger — votes in favor of saving the dog came rolling in. And an astonishing 40 percent of respondents, including 46 percent of women, voted to save their dog over a
To his credit, Professor Sapolsky is not pleased with these results. He concludes:
to another organism and feel its pain like no other species. But let’s not be too proud of ourselves. As this study and too much of our history show, we’re pretty selective about how we extend our humane
The most important question for human beings to ask is how we teach ourselves to “extend our humaneness to
Or, to pose the question within the framework of the dog-stranger question: How do we convince people to save a human being they do not know rather than the dog they do know and love? There is only one way. did throughout American history until the 1960s — that human beings are created in God’s image and animals are not. That is the only compelling reason to save a human being you don’t love before the dog you do love.
classic tension between feelings and values — between feelings and revelation (i.e.,
All of us feel more for a being we love than for a being we don’t know, let alone love. Therefore something must supersede our feelings. That something must be values. But these values must be perceived as emanating from something higher than us, higher than our opinions, higher than our faculty of reason, and even higher than our conscience. That higher source is God. Once again, let us be clear: There is no compelling reason -