The ethic of reciprocity

I write with a troubled heart. I believe that everyone in our world, and in our own communities, needs to look out for one another. The ethic of reciprocity—also known as the golden rule—is debatably the most essential basis for how one should treat another. Yet it seems that rule is not being implemented as it ought to be.

Among the things in our world that can cause us to become cynical and desensitized, fearful and suspicious, there are also things that make it possible for anyone to look around and see beauty everywhere—even if it is not pretty. I think about this when I ponder the past three years that I have lived in Asheville: how the joy and beauty outweigh the pain and ugliness that can pervade our human race. I am by no means an eternal optimist, but I have seen perfect strangers help one another out more times in Asheville than in any other place I have lived.

However, two separate events recently left me feeling angry and dismayed. On March 21, I came home to find a crying friend on my couch, with a gash on her eyebrow and an enormous bump on her head that would turn into the darkest black eye I have ever seen. She had been running on Merrimon Avenue in the middle of the afternoon, and she tripped on some uneven sidewalk and fell hard on her face at an intersection of stopped traffic. Blood was streaming down her cheeks, and no one in the stopped cars even bothered to ask her if she was OK.

Stop and ask someone if they’re OK. Ask someone if they need help. Ask if they need a ride home—as they are bleeding profusely from their head. It’s not hard, and it is so appreciated that they’ll tell the story years down the line: “I remember when someone stopped to help me … .”

This friend is a woman who has dedicated her young life to helping others. Six weeks shy of obtaining her master’s degree in social work, she is living her dream of working to correct the system that keeps so many of the brothers and sisters in our human family in poverty. She has helped to rebuild areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. She sees someone on the side of the road who needs help pushing his car, and she pulls over to assist. She lives the ethic of reciprocity.

The second event involves a young woman just trying to get home to Boston. She was dropped off at the Asheville airport on Sunday, March 22. Ten minutes later, she called—dumbfounded and exasperated. She had been hit by a car while standing outside the airport. She is fine; the collision resulted in nothing more than a fantastically bruised leg. Nonetheless, she was hit by a car, and upon impact had rolled up onto the hood of the car and then back down onto the pavement. The person driving did not stop. They did not ask her if she was OK. They continued on their way without regard to her physical well-being. What the hell?! To top off this atrocity, someone else driving along yelled at her to get out of the road. Again, I ask: What the hell?

Can you imagine being hit by a car and having no one ask you if you need help or if you’re all right? Then, imagine being disparaged for it. I imagine this, and it makes me feel small and insignificant, when in reality—we are all significant.

My point is: Listen to your inner kindergartner. Obey the golden rule. Clean up your mess. If you see someone fall, help them up.

— Dana Hickey

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