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Volume 1, Issue 3
Autumn 2005:

My Brother's Keeper?

Brian T. Maurer

Cell 2 Soul. 2005 Autumn; 1(3):a12

Sunset Flight
Photographer: Barry Penchansky
[Larger Image]

One idea of lasting importance to come out of the French existential movement is that of personal responsibility, both for one's actions toward himself as well as toward his fellow human beings.

We are all in this soup together, and, as my garage mechanic is fond of saying, "None of us is going to get out of this alive".

St. Exupéry, the French aviator and author, perhaps best known to American readers as the creator of The Little Prince, echoes this sentiment in his writings.

In the prologue to Wind, Sand and Stars, he describes his first night flight in Argentina:

"It was a dark night, with only occasional scattered lights glittering like stars on the plain. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness. In one home, people were reading, or thinking, or sharing confidences. In another, perhaps, they were searching through space, wearying themselves with the mathematics of the Andromeda nebula. In another they were making love. These small flames shone far apart in the landscape, demanding their fuel. Each one, in that ocean of shadows, was a sign of the miracle of consciousness ... the flame of the poet, the teacher, or the carpenter. But among these living stars, how many closed windows, how many extinct stars, how many sleeping men ..."

"We must", Saint-Exupéry concludes, "surely seek unity. We must surely seek to communicate with some of those fires burning far apart in the landscape."

In the book of Genesis, when the Lord God approaches Cain to ask the whereabouts of his brother Abel, Cain replies with what may have been the first rhetorical question in the writings of man: "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Not only did he murder his brother, but Cain put forth the notion that it wasn't up to him to look out for Abel's welfare — that was Abel's problem.

Once again we have come to a crossroads on this very issue in contemporary American society.

Do we go with the flow, echoing the sentiment of the right: "Everyone is responsible for himself. We are not our brothers' keepers"?

Or do we stand firm in our resolve to lend a helping hand to our fellow human beings, embracing the idea that we are responsible for one another?

A lot depends on those forces that drive our lives. Money, power, and wealth can make us more selfish, or serve as altruistic motivators.

In the words of St. Exupéry: "Human solidarity [is] the only true wealth in life, mutual responsibility the only ethic."

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