Sometimes when I think about the fact that “everybody matters the same and I should act accordingly”, it makes me want to stop worrying about my close friends and family and start enacting some global good.
Why would I sit here and listen to my friend or spend time with my relatives, when people are literally dying and I could do something about it?
The only justifications I could muster — before thinking about “the buddy system” — were somewhat weak:
- In some ways I’m more positioned to care for those close to me than those far away
- Yeah, but far away (or in larger-scale-care) a dollar (or an hour) can go a really long way…
- Caring for those close to me refreshes me to better serve others on a larger scale
- Yeah, but that only works when it’s actually refreshing! And only for a pretty limited amount.
Harsh! And maybe a little depressing. “utilitarian/humanitarian love”, loving ALL neighbors no less than myself, seemed to dwarf the impact of “local/relational love”, or at least, made it hard for me to mentally appreciate.
But then recently, and I don’t remember how, I thought about the Buddy System. Here’s what Wikipedia has for us on the subject:
The buddy system… [used by the armed forces, boy scouts, and field-trip students]… is a procedure in which two people, the “buddies”, operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other. …. The main benefit of the system is improved safety; each may be able to … rescue the other in a crisis.
Eureka! So that’s the value of giving special effort to taking care of the people within our own tight-knit communities! The buddy system exists to make sure that everybody has somebody watching out for them. It keeps people from falling through the cracks. Think about it; I’d never say to my buddy, “I know you’re my designated buddy, but I’m going to leave you to go see how I can help some more people elsewhere.” When the buddy system works well, I can trust that the other people in my context are being cared for as well as is possible by their own buddies.
What gets hard is when the buddy system breaks down — when I as a boy-scout or world-citizen know that some people somewhere are not being adequately cared for through this system.
There’ll be more on that next week. But what I still know is this: even if the buddy system is failing elsewhere (say, in another campsite or another country), it’s generally not advisable for me to abandon the buddies appointed to me in my attempts to help the people for whom the buddy system isn’t working.
In human terms, this means that no matter how badly hurting the people of the world are, I’m going look out first for my wife, family, and close friends. But it also means that I’m accountable to work WITH those same people to serve a hurting world, because the buddy system isn’t a justification for ignoring faraway pain, it’s merely a prerequisite to addressing it. The buddy system has limitations. I can’t very well watch a scout bleed and die in the interest of keeping watch over my perfectly safe appointed buddy. Again, more on this next week.
But I must say I was very glad to find the metaphor of the buddy system for why I really do care a lot more for the people closest to me than for the average inhabitant of this world, even though the average inhabitant is just as valuable as those I love most.