Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr
A while back, I wrote “Broken wings and bystander yogis,” a post on the responsibility we hold to act in crises—to avoid perpetuating the phenomenon of bystander apathy. In the Yoga Journal Community, a member named lighthasmass (LHM) posted a comment (login needed) about a personal incident:
While driving to teach a yoga class, LHM was running late. A dog suddenly appeared along the 55mph highway and jumped in front of the car behind LHM. The car hit it. LHM faced a dilemma: rush to class (be a bystander) versus helping an injured animal (take responsibility).
Ultimately the car behind LHM stopped to help, so LHM was spared the choice. But LHM recalled the post and wrote, “the lesson has stuck with me.”
This anecdote vividly illustrates a few important points:
- There is a big difference between hypothesis and reality. We cannot predict our behavior in a situation until that situation actually happens. The archetypal conjecture: What would you do if given only a year (six months? two weeks?) to live?
- An idea can take root and color our thought processes, perhaps for life. Once, I took a Zen Buddhism meditation course and the instructor gave a dharma talk on non-stealing, stating that even seemingly innocuous freebies (like an unnoticed undercharge from a big chain store or mooching off a neighbor’s wi-fi) still constitute taking what is not yours. After that talk, I found myself compelled to reject such unwarranted freebies.
- Once someone points out the bright line between good and bad behavior, it’s hard not to do the right thing. If not … The guilt! The sheepishness! The unforgiving conscience! And you need not read Dostoyevsky or Poe to understand this. (Note: Being good has nothing to do with being nice. People tend to confuse the two.)