Don’t Overemphasize the Buddy System as an Ethical Model.

I wrote last week about how seeing the Buddy System as an ethical model can help me understand the value of caring for those closest to me. However, the human tendency is to overemphasize and overindulge in the ethical model of the Buddy System.

In other words, in life, we’re generally TOO focused on our buddies, at the expense of other people’s buddies.

We habitually ignore or even devastate other peoples’ families and friends if it allows us to better care for our own.

Some Examples:

I’ll have…

…More money to spend on my family & friends if…

  • I work in a lucrative industry that hurts your family & friends.
  • I give meagerly or not at all to nonprofits that would benefit your family & friends.

…Better prices when I buy things for my family & friends if…

  • I buy from companies that ultimately employ your family & friends in a sweatshop.
  • My government screws up your family & friends’ country’s economy.

…More time and energy for my family & friends if…

  • I don’t concern myself your family & friends’ well being.
  • I buy myself convenience & comfort without regard for your family & friends.

What might that look like in the buddy-system-metaphor?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I overfeed my buddy while others’ buddies go hungry?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I harvest and hoard all the food?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I steal somebody else’s buddy’s food?

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I kill and cook somebody else’s buddy?


That’s not now the buddy-system should work. Here’s how it should work:

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, so I feed my buddy and myself first, and then feed others.

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, and I only have enough food for my buddy and me. I feed us, and look for other ways to help others.

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, and we don’t have enough food. The two of us share what we have and search for more.

Don’t get me wrong. Over-applying the Buddy System is WAY better than not using it at all, which looks like this:

Boy scouts, in a forest — my buddy is hungry, but I don’t care; I only look out for myself, and I’m doing fine.

Real humans, real life — I’m a parent, but I neglect my kids. I’m a friend, but not in a caring or helpful way.

And that stuff happens. Sometimes we’re so selfish we ignore not only OTHER people, but also OUR people, eschewing both the “Buddy System” and the “Everybody System” and just living in the “SelfCare System”.

That’s an interesting breakdown: | Buddy System | Everybody System | SelfCare System |

3 systems that run in parallel, are all true & important, but are also in tension with each other:

Everybody System: Act as if everybody matters.

Buddy System: Act as if I’m especially responsible for those closest to me.

SelfCare System: Act as if it’s important for me to watch out for myself.

I highlighted the Buddy System in last week’s post as a way of understanding how truly important it is for us to give special care to our family and friends and to the local communities we’re a part of. But it’s really important to remember to keep the buddy system in its place — namely, as being one of three key systems none of which can be ignored. And it’s important to remember that of the three systems, the Buddy System is not the most ignored or endangered. The title of “Most Ignored Ethical System” goes to the Everybody System in a landslide, because our psyches are set up to care for ourselves and those closest to us — i.e. those who can “pay us back” in one way or another.

So even though a few of us obnoxiously idealistic ethicists out there may occasionally forget why it’s important to give disproportionate care to the people close to us, that’s not the major error that plagues our world, because frankly, it’s not that common. A quest or movement to urge people to care about… the people they care about… is not in dire need. In other words, Don’t Overemphasize the Buddy System as an Ethical Model!

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Overemphasize the Buddy System as an Ethical Model.

  1. Well said, Daniel.  I especially like your point about the 3 options for ethical systems and how they need to be in balance.  Very interesting!

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  2. Next question to discuss: how content is too content?  I’ve been feeling very happy lately, and it’s making me a little uncomfortable.  Should it?

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    1. @BethanyRingdal First, let me say that I love that you are pushing us/yourself/this discussion to the next level! That alone is a piece of evidence that you are not (or at least, will not remain) “too content”.  
       
      I think part of considering this question involves defining “content”. Do you mean “content” as in “happy and fulfilled and feeling that I am responding well and fully to God’s calling”? Or “content” as in “happy and satiated and feeling that I don’t want to get out of bed ever” (like me right now…… confession….. lol). Or “content” as in “sedentary, happy, and sitting back on my heels with a feeling that I have arrived and thus can coast through life”?  
       
      …Let’s be real, this should be its own blog post. Lol. Well, I’ll post this here for now and turn it into a blog post later.

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