by Annie Foster
February 20, 2014
February 20, 2014
Every Sunday afternoon a street beggar named Frederick sits on a bench on the curb of Main street, outside the three most populated churches in town. He sits waiting for the services to end and the parishioners to begin to spill out of the doorways. He takes his old broken violin out of his backpack and begins to play the only piece of music he knows. Every week the same two people stop to listen for a brief moment before dropping their spare change in his can and walking away. Frederick has almost become one with the scenery of the street curb, his raggedy frame blending in with the worn bench. Only a few people who are not from the area ever notice his presence there. To those who pass by him everyday, Frederick is no more human than the bench he sits on. He has become a mere ornament of the street corner. Perhaps this dehumanization and objectification of a poor beggar was the reason that no one noticed Frederick the Sunday he had a heart attack and almost died.
The man picked up Frederick’s heavy body and called a cab to take them to the hospital. When they got there he was told Frederick might have died that day on the bench. No one would have noticed his stiff body lying there motionless, the parishioners scurrying off to get breakfast with their families, too busy to notice Frederick’s existence let alone the fact that he was now dead.
This fictional story reveals an all too real and all too common moral situation, the good Samaritan who stopped to help the beggar made the morally good choice while his friend the morally bad choice. However, we should not only look at morality through good or bad actions but also take into account the importance of an inner response to moral values. We can not always respond to value with our actions. On occasion there is a need to respond from within ourselves. This inner response is the feeling of gratitude you would feel for a person who sacrificed his life to save yours. An inner response of gratitude ought to be given to the value of the man’s heroic act. It is significant, noble, and important to express genuine humility, gratitude, selfless love, and real forgiveness towards that which rightly deserves these responses. By having the proper reverence for values we can progress in forming a personality which radiates virtues and morals.
If the two men exiting church witnessed a flower being trampled under the feet of the other parishioners, there would be less of a demand on me to respond. The beggar has intrinsic value because he is a human being, ranking higher than the value of a flower. I do not exhibit the same love for a human being as I would a flower. Hence, the injustice done to the beggar deserves a greater response than the trampling of a flower.
The man in the story who decided to go to breakfast instead of helping the beggar was only concerned with what had subjectively satisfying value, that which was agreeable to him. He had no interest in the value that inheres in the life of man. The man who behaved morally saw that the life of the beggar was important in itself. Hildebrand in The Art of Living,explains the moral obligation of the scenario, “Whether one does or does not help another person who is in need does not depend upon one’s arbitrary pleasure; he is guilty who ignores this objective value.” (3) Positive moral values demand affirmation while negative value a refusal on our part. (The Art of Living, pg. 3)
Realizing moral values is important to the actualization of the human person, forming yourself into a morally upright person who recognizes value and responds virtuously. Hildebrand puts it thus: “The capacity to grasp values, to affirm them, and to respond to them, is the foundation for realizing the moral values of man.” (4) Moral values are the highest among all natural values and are always personal values which can only be realized by man. A material thing such as dog or a tree can not be good or bad or possess moral goodness. Man alone has the freedom to be responsible for his actions. Man alone can be responsible for his love, his hatred, his joy and his sorrow, and can be morally good or bad. (The Art of Living, pg.2) It is of great importance for man to focus on the world of positive moral values and to reject negative moral values. This claim is supported by great minds such as Plato or Socrates who themselves shared the belief that is better to suffer injustice than to commit it.(The Art of Living, pg.1) Moral values rank higher than any type of cultural accomplishments, personality or intellectual traits. It is better to be humble than charming, better to be truthful than win a gold medal, and better to be loving than have a 4.0 GPA.
“Goodness, purity, truthfulness, humility of man rank higher than genius, brilliancy, exuberant vitality, higher than beauty of nature or of art, higher than the stability and power of a state.” (1)
Hildebrand states that only a man who can recognize things which are beautiful and good in themselves, and who can grasp the demand of values and let oneself be formed by them, is capable of realizing moral values. Therefore, let us allow moral values to change us and respond to their demands on us, so that we may see the fullness of the world of values with a clear vision.
Quote 1-2 :The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965) page 3.
Quote 3: The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand, page 4.
Quote 4: The Art of Living, Dietrich von Hildebrand page 1.
Image 1: source (Homeless man asleep on a bench, the Embankment in the City of London, mid 1930s.)Image 2: source