On an ordinary day, the nature of our character may be hidden from our very selves. We may like to make ourselves believe that we would always act or not act in a particular way. And yet, when we are faced with a crisis, or placed in circumstances that are extroadinary, then it is that the best or worst in us, comes to the fore .
In times of natural calamities like a flood or in times of war or civil disturbances and riots, we often hear distressing tales like that of fleeing families being accosted and looted of their belongings at gun point or of women and young girls being molested by those who approach them, under the pretext of helping with the rescue.
Contrasting with such stories, where we witness the worst in us, taking over, one often hears stories of people who save the lives of others , at the cost of risking their own lives. While the first lot of people may fit in well with the survival of the fittest theory, the second group of altruists, challenge the laws of evolution as propounded by Charles Darwin and others. There have been many researchers who have tried to find a coherent explanation. Working with tribal populations , where identification with a particular group was predominant, some of the researchers concluded that while individual self-interests are hard wired into our genes and so patterned to ensure survival of the individual, altruism plays a part in determining group survival . That makes sense because, in a group, if everyone was out to destroy everyone else, pretty soon there would be chaos all around, to the detriment of the whole group. This also explained the attachment and protectiveness exhibited by mothers in the animal kingdom towards their offsprings and the willingness to undertake sacrifices in the interests of those coming within the fold of kinship.
There are many, many incidents which defy all explanations of the survival theory as well , whether it be of the individual or the group, where people put their lives at stake to save someone, totally unrelated to them or are complete strangers. Many months ago, one had read a newspaper report where a handicapped man had jumped into the river to save a woman who was drowning. She unfortunately died and the man who tried to save her , had himself to be rescued. The critical part of this incident, was that this man did not know how to swim.
So, what is it that urges a person to save another life , at the peril of destroying his own?. Is it a remembrance in the deeper levels of our consciousness of our connectedness, that has been lost to us, as we have traversed the ages, from our primitive states? Isn’t this, the connectedness, that the Wise have stressed upon? Aren’t all standards of ethical behaviour and the essence of morality based on this truth ? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Is it possible to consciously evoke that feeling and work on it, in the larger interests of mankind?