Hide table of contents

The specific situation that inspired this question was that a functionary was typing my information into a system on a mobile phone and was struggling to get it right. While I can think of lots of preventative solutions, in the moment I simply asked him if he would like me to type my information (as it is different than most of the information he encounters). He refused this help, and after a few more failed attempts I again gently offered and he again refused. The whole time, a few dozen people were in line behind me, getting restless and upset that this process which normally takes 30 to 60 seconds was lasting for several minutes. I can't very well force my assistance upon him, but his refusal of my assistance caused suffering (albeit fairly small suffering in the grand scale) for other people. 

While this specific situation caused me to start thinking, the general concept can be applied to many situation in which you see suffering occurring and you have the ability to quite easily relieve that suffering if only another person will allow you to take action. What ought one to do in this type of situation? Should one just stand by and allow people to suffer, while occasionally gently nudging/offering a better option?




New Answer
New Comment

2 Answers sorted by

You need to consider the broader context. In this situation you were polite and gently offered help. I think that's the right thing to do. You could have been more forceful, which might (or might not) have sped things along but at the cost of making the world a less polite place. You could have ripped the phone out of their hands, which could have really sped things along while being even more rude. 

In this case the degree of "suffering" you're talking about is a few people waiting in line for 2 minutes, so going "Karen" on the person is likely to do more harm than good.

More generally, utilitarian calculations often neglect broader context. One utilitarian might argue that murdering an innocent person for their organs to save 5 organ recipients is good for the world. A better utilitarian would point out that in a world where we could each be murdered for our organs at any time, the increased fear and anxiety probably makes that world worse.

In general, it’s a good idea to not let strangers touch your phone. Someone can easily run off with it, and worse, while it’s unlocked, take advantage of elevated access privileges.

Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities