Sunday, June 14, 2020

Responsibility to Others

When hundreds of corona19 patients were diagnosed every day in Daegu, the hardest-hit city in Korea, it was difficult for the citizens to control their emotions, hearing about the infections in nursing and mental hospitals. The death of people without defense was terrible. So begins an article in the Peace Column of the Catholic Peace weekly by a university professor whose field is Slavic Literature.

She recalls the day, the words of a teacher struck her like a lightning bolt. "The reason why we are laughing happily at this moment is because of the tears someone cried somewhere. We are healthy because of patients, sick somewhere."

Having a relatively stable daily life except for big and small discomforts, she felt like sitting on a comfortable sofa and crying as she watched the scene of the pain reflected on the TV screen —a scene of absurdity.

Remembering that someone suffered does not mean you felt sorry for them. Using the words of a philosopher— we need to feel responsible for the sufferer. Compassion is not the same as feeling responsible. Responsibility is the attitude we must have towards the suffering of others.

"How can I enjoy the light that nobody else can see, and how can I enjoy the sound that nobody else can hear? I feel responsible for the darkness of others and I feel as if I am a thief stealing light." (Emil Cioran 1911-1995)

 We live in a world where no one is responsible for anything. Whether it's time or money, it's people who cry out for charity without sacrificing anything, people who think that large empty slogans change the world, people who sit at their desks, and discuss justice with flowery vocabulary. I wonder where responsibility enters the picture in their discussions. Obviously, it's surreal, beyond the possible, that persons responsible for their faults and mistakes are so rare, is it possible to find persons who feel responsible for the misfortunes of others?

But Corona19 showed us that there are people who actually exist, and feel responsible for the sufferings of others. They are medical staff struggling with viruses all over the country including Daegu Hospital. Unless they were willing to risk their time, stamina, family, and even life to save the lives of others, all of us would have felt helpless with the idea that all humans, were ultimately trapped in the survival of the fittest. Not everyone can be a hero. However, one needs to discriminate between those who take all kinds of risks and those who do not.

Emmanuel Levinas saw human beings as ethical subjects only when they responded to the call of others in pain. Here, the response is much more profound than simple interest.  It means that I recognize the existence and consciousness of others as my own and ultimately accept others' suffering as mine.

This is neither a matter of legal justice nor an ethical issue. It is a conclusion that can never be reached by calculation or analysis. But if this is not possible, where can we resist the evils of the world? She concludes in paying tribute to the medical staff who risk their lives and fight viruses from all over the world.

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