The dilemma du jour is about obligation and responsibility. I’ve come across this question before, in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse character. The question is, just because you can do something, are you required to do it? Does capability engender obligation? In the world of the Fever series, Mac struggles with the issue of whether her special sidhe powers—powers that might mean saving the world—necessitate that she has to use them to do so, even at the expense of her own life and joy. Sookie ponders whether it is selfish and wrong of her to hide her ability to identify accident survivors after a catastrophe, or not to use her telepathy to solve crimes—knowing that if she doesn’t, innocent people will be hurt and guilty ones will go free. Tough stuff, for sure. Makes me happy that I can’t read minds or sense Fae objects of power—I would have the same dilemma as Mac and Sookie. But wait—I already do—and so do you, actually. We all have something we can do that would make at least someone else’s life better than it is. Does that mean we have to do it? What does it make us if we don’t?
How do we square the circle at the intersection of “not my job” and the concept that with great power comes great responsibility? I have no idea. Do we behave like Sookie and go back to our lives, rather than sacrifice ourselves to the greater good? Or do we do like Mac and decide to go all in, despite the risks and potential sacrifices? This is a very personal decision and it goes beyond the question of whether to save the world just because you can. How much should we sacrifice for others? Should Bill Gates give all his money away, or just much of it, as he does? Should doctors treat patients for free in all circumstances? There is a line, somewhere between Ayn Rand and Karl Marx, but hell if I know exactly where it is. There is an art to saying no, of course, but for me, there is an even bigger art to avoiding the guilt that comes afterward. I know, rationally, that I probably can’t save the world, although I do have a postcard above my desk that reads, “I am fairly certain that given a cape and a nice tiara, I could save the world.”
But I can’t always help. At least not without giving something up that I don’t want to give, including my time, my energy, my money and my reputation. And I’ve learned to say no and to live with it somewhat comfortably, at least much of the time. But damn, it’s hard. I used to believe that when someone asked me for something, the request itself created an obligation for me to fulfill it. Even worse, I had a bad case of “if I spot it, I got it,” and I don’t the idea of seeing our own character defects in others and being all high and mighty about it (OMG—did you see how catty she is? I ask my BFF—in a decidedly feline manner). What I mean is that if I saw something that I knew I could make better—even if no one else recognized this reality—something in my brain made me want to take up the cause and volunteer (in the military they teach you not to do that, ever). And then subsequently, when I was slaving away at midnight or later, seething with resentment, I had no one to blame but myself.
So, I don’t pretend to have the answers here, but I know these are important questions to ask, and I’m grateful to Ms. Moning and Ms. Harris for sparking my thoughts in this direction. There may be no right answer for everyone, and the answer may change with the situation and the time in one’s life, or even whether we’re just feeling generous or stingy that day—but now I’ve gone and given myself away, with my niggling suspicion that if I don’t do absolutely everything there is to do to help humanity and improve the world, I’m a selfish bitch. I’m thinking that’s not true, but I guess I need to work on my internal dialogue a bit. I’ll need to switch off between Sookie and Mac and try to find some balance in my life. Wish me luck.