Why should we care?
July 30, 2007 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Epigraph-filter: I need a great quote that cogently encapsulates the following: why, in a stark and rational universe, should one concern oneself foremost with the welfare of others?
posted by killdevil to Religion & Philosophy (21 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
" 'Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- :
'God damn it, you've got to be kind.' "
--Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
posted by lemuria at 10:31 AM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
-Carl Sagan (Contact 1985)

In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.
-Carl Sagan

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
-Carl Sagan ("In the Valley of the Shadow" PARADE magazine (10 March 1996))

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone you've ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines. Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
-Carl Sagan (Commencement address delivered on May 11, 1996)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:32 AM on July 30, 2007 [9 favorites]

Whatever version of the Golden Rule you like would seem to do the trick.
posted by greatgefilte at 10:35 AM on July 30, 2007

"Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs." - Patrick Henry
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:40 AM on July 30, 2007

“The best that we can do is to be kindly and helpful toward our friends and fellow passengers who are clinging to the same speck of dirt while we are drifting side by side to our common doom.” – Clarence Darrow.
posted by ads at 10:51 AM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hey, hey, hey. Don't be mean. We don't have to be mean because, remember, no matter where you go, there you are.
-Buckaroo Banzai
posted by Meatbomb at 10:56 AM on July 30, 2007

Do you want quotes that answer the posed question, or do you want ones that express "why bother?"
posted by smackfu at 10:59 AM on July 30, 2007

"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours." -- Yogi Berra
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2007

The classic would surely be Donne's "no man is an island."
posted by Abiezer at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2007

According to some people, helping others saves our lives. From the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

"In fact, our very lives depend on helping others. That gives our lives purpose. And it keeps us sober.

"Instead of looking out for ourselves, we try to be useful to others. We talk to other addicts about what we know. We share our own painful experience with others who need to know they aren't alone. That can give our lives purpose."
posted by Gregamell at 11:36 AM on July 30, 2007

Do you want quotes that answer the posed question, or do you want ones that express "why bother?"

I can't come up with an appropriate quote, but absent a clarification, my reading of it is that killdevil wanted a quote that actually asks the question (as a question, and not a rhetorical one) instead of answering yay or nay.
posted by juv3nal at 12:38 PM on July 30, 2007

I'm thinking of something by the Dalai Lama-
People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion and elimination of ignorance, selfishness and greed. (source)
Does this count as stark and rational?
posted by MtDewd at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2007

To clarify: I am most interested in quotes that suggest, or directly provide, an answer to the posed question.
posted by killdevil at 1:41 PM on July 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

"I want to help because I don't think people should suffer as they do, because if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world." - Angel, from the show Angel.

Sorry, I'm a nerd. Later, I'll comb through my Kierkegaard for a more literate quote.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:26 PM on July 30, 2007

"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." — Albert Einstein

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." — Dalai Lama

"If we should deal out justice only, in this world, who would escape? No, it is better to be generous, and in the end more profitable, for it gains gratitude for us, and love." — Mark Twain

"How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these." — George Washington Carver

"If you step on people in this life, you're going to come back as a cockroach." — Willie Davis
posted by rob511 at 3:25 PM on July 30, 2007

All who are not lunatics are agreed about certain things: That it is better to be alive than dead, better to be adequately fed than starved, better to be free than a slave. Many people desire those things only for themselves and their friends; they are quite content that their enemies should suffer. These people can be refuted by science: Mankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity- except by insuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.

--Bertrand Russell
posted by bricoleur at 4:16 PM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be nice to people on the way up because you'll meet the same people on the way down.
-Wilson Mizner
posted by MCTDavid at 6:17 PM on July 30, 2007

Another quote of Angel's from the show Angel (sorry, same theme but I can't resist):

"If there is no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:04 PM on July 30, 2007

bricoleur's got it, to my mind. Russell covered this ground succinctly but with eloquence.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:05 AM on July 31, 2007

"Love conquers all."

Or, if you prefer the weight of Latin and the momentum of two thousand years of allusion by practically everybody--

"amor vincit omnia."
posted by jamjam at 9:02 AM on July 31, 2007

I have heard one quote used both ways - to suggest that we should care, and to suggest that we should not. I'm having trouble finding a reference at the moment, but I believe it goes as follows:

"Reality stands in no need of being true to life."

I've heard it attributed to Nicholas Boileau, but again, I'm having trouble finding it.
posted by rush at 11:54 AM on July 31, 2007

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