Obligation: Human vs. Citizen

March 11, 2008 / Daily Life, Opinion / 28 Comments

The other I was walking down my street with my boyfriend. It was snowing. The whole street was peacefully silent – almost as if the snowflakes were absorbing the noise. But then a man started shouting desperately “PAY THE RENT! PAY THE RENT!”

I ignored it at first. Then my boyfriend and I saw two men, one of which continued to shout while walking towards a guy that was seemingly oblivious and silently escaping into the shadows of the alley. But he continued shouting…


My boyfriend was suggesting that we call the cops because he was worried for the man walking into the alley. I disagreed for many reasons:

  • It’s a domestic affair – Someone not paying rent is a breach of contract between landlord and tenant. As a neighbor, there is nothing I can do because I have no jurisdiction over that contract. And as for cops, there is nothing they can do other than arrest the tenant for breaking a contract or arrest the landlord for disturbing the peace. It’s a lose-lose situation. And as a rational human being, I don’t waste time and effort on lose-lose situations.
  • There’s insufficient information – From that confrontation alone, I can’t figure out the tenant’s reasons for not paying up. If he was unemployed he could’ve negotiated with the landlord instead of walking away. If he was a gambler or just someone who’s bad with money… well then he asked for it. In a situation where I cannot even determine the perpetrator is not worth calling 911. Besides, there was no imminent threat. It’s not like the landlord chased him down with a knife.

Thinking back, I think my boyfriend‘s instinct is one of a good citizen. Mine was one of human nature.

As the anime, Kino’s Journey キノの旅 Kino no Tabi subtly explains in episode 2, as human beings, we have no obligation to help one party or another. Our only obligation is to survive. The reason why we help others is often because we would like to be helped by others if we were to encounter a similar situation. In other words, it is saying that the underlying foundation for human compassion is selfishness. (I think this is true but only to a certain degree.)

Kino’s Journey Screenshots

Psychoanalytical animes aside, I believe as a citizen, we all have the obligation to ensure laws are abided by. But in this case, where there isn’t sufficient information for me ascertain who the perpetrator is, being indifferent seems to be the best choice for everyone. Afterall, everyone has the right to be angry.

If you were in my situation, what would you have done?

Nanyate?! 10 Day Hiatus!
Dear Visitors and Subscribers:

This is going to be my last entry for the next 10 days. I have many essays due from now till March 24th so, I will be refraining from blogging until then. (See schedule here.) My apologies – especially to the 10 new subscribers. I have many interesting entries planned and a new layout in the works. The layout will be… kinda special and be released in early/mid April. Well, that’s it for spoilers. 😉

Feel free to comment on my old entries and contact me via the contact form if you need to. See ya soon!

Much Love,

PS. Some of you might want to check the previous post for my comment replies. 😛

  • k

    looking forward to your new layout!!

    and with regards to your essays… 아자 아자 화이팅!! ^^

  • Id

    I would have done what your boyfriend suggested. Well probably not call the cops, but notified someone in the area and then skeddadled the hell out of there. =P But I agree with the ideology that we help others because we would like to be helped in the same way should the tables be turned. It’s basically the Golden Rule’s footnote.

  • Same like what Id will do – I’ll most probably call the cops or get someones else to help that person out. I’m more of the kind that will get myself into trouble by poking my nose into everything, but I can’t treat it as if I’ve seen nothing. You’ve got a point there, that there might be another side to the whole thing, that the tenant might be using that money for gambling and beer… my parents would have made the same decision as you if they happen to stumble upon this scene.

    I once read this line in the Japanese manga Detective Conan, where Shinchi told his girlfriend that “I don’t know why people want to harm each other, but I know that we have no reasons not to help someone”. Now that’s classic!

  • wow, deep post. I probably would have done like you. I mean, he wasn’t going after the guy with a baseball bat or anything, right? As long as the guy’s life wasn’t in danger, I don’t think you had any obligation to call the police. They probably wouldn’t have come for hours anyway.

  • funny, ABC news did a special on this last night where they had a hidden camera and watched the reaction of average citizens to see if they would participate as a “good samaritan”.

    knowing that I hate confrontations, I’d probably not get involved. but like you say, if there’s no doubt that the man is in grave danger, I’d probably call the police.

  • Nuuuuuuuuuuuu…*pouts*
    Oh well, good luck on your essays. I’m on a mini hiatus from everything until uhm, tonight. LOL! Going home for Spring Holiday! I hope you do extremely well on your assignments!

  • Wow, good luck with all of the essays that you have to do!! But wow, you have entries planned out already? Can’t wait to read those and see your new layout! =)

    Yeah, I would have done what your boyfriend suggested. Only because the man could have gotten hurt, even though there was no knife or anything. From experience, people can get hurt without any weapons at all… =/ So yeah… =/

  • aww i’m going to miss you ivy~…
    such an coindence i’m revising my econ … about altruism….

    mmm my boyfriend’s like that too…..

    lol laws… sometimes i fantasize about triads and gangs and stuff… anyways something romantic about godfathers etc… somehow..

  • Well, if I were in your position, I would observe for a while and try to deduce whether the man involved is in any danger or not. If his (assailants?!?) and himself launch into a peaceful discussion thereafter, then perhaps everything will be fine. If they threaten him with violence (or if they’ve began being violent) then I’d call the police.

    10 days of non-blogging? I’ve managed that too – during this particular period of time where I’ve had deadlines one day after the other. 🙁 All the best in completing your essays though, but remember to relax as well, aye?

  • Laws aside, we’d be extinct if we didn’t the instincts to help in others’ survival. It’s in our nature.

    I believe what you’ve experienced is gender difference. Women seek safety first for themselves and their beloved ones; men are different.

  • Your boyfriend really needs those extra hits, am I right?

  • I didn’t know KINO NO TABI, but there are some good tips or lessons we can find in Japanese anime. Maybe in that way, Japanese anime is not just an animation. It’s rather educational.

    Well, you have a lot of visiters, and you are visiting friends’ blogs so frequently. I’m sorry I am not as active as you, since I don’t have enough time working for my blog after I’m finished with my job. I wish I were a college student now. Then it would be much fun with SNS, blog, HP, & whatever.

    Oh, thanks for another comment today to my blog but somehow I cannot find it after I pressed “publish” your comment. It somehow disappeared.(>_<)

  • I would have done the same thing. I understand about the whole citizen thing, but I feel as if the “citizen rule” only applies if someone is being hurt.

  • I would’ve just left the situation unless I absolutely knew that the man was in danger. Sometimes it’s best to stay out of a situation if it doesn’t involve you because you never know what kind of mess you can get yourself into. Better safe than sorry! You should always put yourself and your safety ahead of anyone (well maybe unless they are your loved ones).

    I remember once I drove by my neighbours house and there was chinese writing all over his garage in red paint telling them to pay the rent. Pretty embarassing!

  • I will just leave the situation as it is unless someone comes running to the man with a parang. Even if I know the man is in danger, I’ll just call the police. Never show your face in situation like this. Scary…>_<

  • hhaha, good plan.
    lets hope that we both are successful enough to have infinate money.

  • I just read that your bf and yourself live in Toronto (I do too) and I would have done the same thing as you. The reason I say that is because well it’s Toronto. This isnt Caledonia where it happens to be the safest city in Canada. You dont know what theyre talking about so it’s best to mind your own business. You dont want to get involved in something that is not your business. You have your own shit to take care of and let them do their shit. I find that your bf may have been trying to be a good Samaritan there.

  • Even if you do not have any jurisdiction over any contract between two other parties, that doesn’t mean that you have to be subjected to such strange outbursts and odd behaviour. No part of contract law permits those to intimidate third parties to ensure enforcement of a contract! I would have called the police just out of fear! However, I live in a small town compared to Toronto so maybe its just a different thing or something I guess!

  • The situation definitely did NOT call for police intervention.
    Or any outside parties’ intervention.
    Unless it was to help the man file a suit to get his rent back; rather than shout at the delinquent tenant.

    I don’t watch much anime.
    I like my cartoons child-like, lol.
    I do agree with the philosophy of the one you mentioned though.

    We only do things because they have some sort of benefit to us.
    Whether it’s money, safety, a warm feeling inside, avoiding guilt, etc…

    Unfortunately, we do have an obligation to others.
    You can be held responsible for not helping a bleeding man in the street. If not criminally, within civil court.