Ethics Made Simple

On a cold day in February, I found myself stuck in a car that unilaterally chose not to continue moving. The situation was bleak. I was at the dead end of a divided street that cut through at least a mile of an empty, fenced-in recreational area on one side and rows of cottage-sized homes on the other side. At mid-afternoon, the area had the look of a ghost town: not a person in sight.

Because of a hearing problem I don’t carry a cellphone. I ask passersby for help whenever I’m in trouble outdoors. But this time no one was passing by: I might just as well have been in the Alaskan Tundra.

At about the time when I was reassuring myself that freezing to death mercifully numbs a victim before killing him, a lady walked out of one of the homes. I asked her if she might help me make a call to the AAA. In response she shook her head: “No.” I said, “I see you’re not interested in helping me.” She responded with a cold stare and walked away. I stopped her for a moment to ask for the name of the street. She would not give me the name and just walked away.

Out of nowhere a man and two teenagers appeared behind the fence for football practice. I asked him if he might help me. He thoroughly and cordially did so at once.

Technically, there are only two kinds of people worldwide: those like that woman and those like that man. The niceties vary but the essence of fine ethics is absolute at every level of human behavior from the intimate to the political to the religious.       

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