Let’s Keep Each Other Company

By Dr. Karen Rezach, Director of the Ethics Institute at Kent Place School

A few months ago, I heard about a 26-year-old woman who was having an argument with her boyfriend in New York City. She became so upset as a result of the argument that she ran across the street and pushed an 87-year-old grandmother to the ground. The young woman then stood by and watched while an ambulance came and picked up the elderly grandmother lying on the street. Five days later, that grandmother, a beloved coach who worked with Broadway singers, died. The alleged assailant and the victim had never met before. 

Not long after that tragedy, I was watching News12 NJ and was horrified to see the video of a young woman running for her life while being chased by a moving car. The driver of the car managed to catch-up to the woman and ran her over more than once. Thankfully, she survived, but suffered severe injuries. Why did the driver run her over? Because she had taken a picture of his license plate after the two of them were involved in a minor car accident. 

And then yesterday – the horrific murder of 19 children and 2 teachers at a Texas Elementary School. The murderer? An 18 year old young man. This happens only days after last week’s massacre in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 innocent people dead at the hands of another 18 year old murderer.

The stories keep coming: a man shoves a woman he did not even know into the path of an incoming subway car, killing her; thousands of innocent people killed in Ukraine due to an unprovoked, horrific invasion by Russia. 

We watch the news…we see the images…we are fed this constant diet of watching life devalued and destroyed. 

A question in the Bioethics Project class that we constantly return to is this: What is the value of human life? Most of the time, we talk about “the value of life” within the context of discussions about medical interventions, decisions around the beginning and end of life, and whether or not laws like legalized euthanasia for the mentally ill or Medical Aid in Dying for the terminally ill lead us down a slippery slope.

As a society, we are truly on a slippery slope. Senseless killing, unprovoked wars, mass murders are becoming so common place that we are becoming de-sensitized to the devaluing of life that has become pervasive all around us. 

Why Is this Happening?

Image by u_uf78c121 from Pixabay

One reason many experts say that life is becoming devalued and people are desensitized is because people now interact with other people largely by using their “devices” – mainly their cell phones. There might be some truth in that. I know that more and more, people connect with each other largely via social media or other digital platforms, preventing us from engaging in genuine, interpersonal contact with each other. The device protects us from experiencing human emotion and human response, thus seriously impeding our ability to develop real human relationships. In the process, one might also lose a sense of what it means to be an authentic human being.

I was recently speaking with a man who is the father of a former student at Kent Place School. This issue of “the value of life” came up and he said to me, “When my daughter was in high school, I would sometimes be sitting with her when she was doing her homework and I would say, `Honey, I have to run downstairs and make dinner.’ And she would say to me,’Can you just stay here and keep me company?’ I still think that is the kindest thing anyone had ever said to me, `Dad, can you stay with me and keep me company.`”

As he spoke to me, that father began to tear up. 

I was thinking…maybe that is one, simple key to reversing the rampant devaluation of human life that we are beginning to see all around us…sit with each other, stay with each other, look at each other, spend time with each other…

Maybe we can put down our phones and toss our agendas into wastebaskets and simply “keep each other company,” with the only goal being simply to BE together. 

This is certainly not the total solution to an enormous societal problem, but it is one possible step toward learning to value each other…and life. 

I invite you to tell me, what do you think?