Is it good enough to ‘do no harm’?
Say you have never broken the law, or at least have never been convicted, does that mean you have lived a good life? This question reminds me of the story in the Gospels about the rich young man who asked Jesus what he had to do to ‘inherit eternal life’. He had kept all the commandments. But clearly he still felt there was something lacking. Jesus reply in this case was sell everything and come and follow me. What does it mean for me and you to live a good life?
Care for a neighbour, whether literally next door, or any member of society, means actively giving aid when someone is in need. Ignoring someone who is distress is in fact an offence, a dereliction of care. Doing nothing can allow someone else to come to harm. Neglect of a child is also a form of abuse.
Because the world is so connected these days, and we are aware of the desperate plight of millions of people, this seems like an enormous burden of care to carry. Individual efforts alone cannot meet the need. Governments need to act together in order to harness the necessary resources, for example to meet the need arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that the governments of the world are not co-operating, rather in some cases competing for scarce resources, is a structural failure of the ethics of care.
Neither government inaction nor ignorance can absolve me from the duty of care. So I have to wrestle with what I can do within the limits of my time, energy and resources. But there are other factors which might inhibit my capacity for caring. I may be ‘blind’ to some needs. Or my prejudices may make me less than keen to respond to some people’s needs. I may be wilfully ignorant, deliberately ignoring their plight.
It is much easier to know when you have not done something, than if you have done enough. Love is never finished. There is always more than can be done.