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Do we have a moral obligation to help those in need?

oskar schindler i could have done more ring
Many of us have wondered at one point or another how much we should be doing to help those in need, and whether or not there's a moral obligation to do so.  It can be anything from an occasional $50 donation after a natural disaster, or getting formally trained to work professionally in a field that directly helps others.  We may also wonder if we earn a decent income, how much of that should go to help others before we can allow ourselves to spend on luxuries guilt free?

Over the centuries, some of the major religious traditions have sought to make this moral decision easier.  Jews and Christians typically consider 10% of one’s income as the magic number (plus an additional degree of gifts and offerings if one is able).  Muslims set a minimum of 2.5%, but encourage more if one is able.  Some of the world’s wealthiest folks like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett amass great wealth and live in great luxury, but are also very generous in the amount of total money that they give - and both have stated that they are planning to give away most of the money they’ve earned to charitable causes. 
Ultimately the answers to these questions of moral obligation are extremely important because they greatly influence the way we build our lives, and how we look at our roles in the whole of society.  And it doesn’t matter if we’re religious or not, this applies to every human alive, because we’re all more inter-dependent then we even think.  So let’s start off with a hypothetical circumstance to set the stage:

Let’s say that you had just spent $800 on a new suit for a special wedding occasion... you may not even like suits, and $800 is A LOT of money for you, and there were similar suits that cost less, but you needed a suit and this one you have to admit looked striking on you (if you do say so yourself) so you splurged!  Upon your first time wearing this new suit you’re walking along the sidewalk to the beach wedding, and the walk was flanked by a beach to one side.  You then notice in the distance a child struggling to swim and gasping for breaths about 20 yards out in the water, you look left and right and notice that nobody is with this kid, and he’s in danger of drowning.  You realize that the only chance this kid has to survive is if you bolt straight-away into the water to save him; although in doing that, it becomes immediately apparent that your new suit would be ruined by the experience.  But there is simply no time to strip down to your skivvies...  you have to act immediately!   What do you do?  Would you take immediate action and sacrifice your new suit to save the child?  Most people would say yes, of course they would!

Now imagine that defying the most unbelievable odds, you’re again walking down that same beachside to another wedding in that same place a year later, and again had to buy a new suit because the one you purchased a year earlier had been ruined, and again this suit cost around $800 (and again looks dashing on you).  You again look at the shore recalling the wild experience from last year, and in the midst of doing that, to your absolute amazement, again you see a child in the water drowning and gasping for air.  Would you ruin another new suit to save the kid, or would you say “nope, one time was enough of that, I’m not ruining another brand new suit?”  Again, most people would say of course they would do it again, despite it being terribly inconvenient! 

Now we could continue with this analogy all day.  Studies show that in an imminently life threatening situation, most humans would sacrifice material possessions, and even personal comfort or security to save another human life, especially when it's involving a child.  At the same time though, in our modern society most people tend to value the ideal of splurging on themselves from time to time - while knowing full well that at the same time it’s a fact that a child somewhere else in the world is dying of hunger or a treatable disease (i.e., drowning) and that money we just used on a luxury could have saved them. 
You may recall that incredible scene from Schindler’s List when Oscar Schindler was realizing that he had lived in luxury most of his life, and that same money he was spending on himself for luxuries could have been used to pay for the release of more Jews from the concentration camps.  In other words, he realized that he "could have done more."  He realized that everything he owned could have been used to save precious lives from that horrible and tragic death, even his car and his clothes could have been ransomed.  He then begins to despise his possessions and feel a world of regret and shame.

So perhaps the answer to the question is YES, we do have a moral obligation to those in need, because ultimately that's the type of humanity we want to live within... <---Click to Tweet This

Maybe the next time we purchase something we  should ask ourselves if we really need it, and if not, consider giving that same money to a worthy cause.  Or maybe we look to see if there’s something of value just sitting in our jewelry box that we could sell or donate the proceeds in order to save a life now!  Granted, these suggestions aren’t always fun, but then again, neither are children dying or at risk of preventable sickness, hunger, disease, or sex trafficking.  And neither is it fun to come to the end our life only to realize that we really should have done more for others. 

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