Does It Pay to be a Good Samaritan?

    Most people are probably familiar with the “Good Samaritan” story in the Bible. It’s the one Jesus told about a traveler who is beaten, robbed, and left to die on the road. A priest comes by, sees the man, but walks on. So too does a Levite who sees the dying man. But a Samaritan sees the man, binds his wounds, and takes him to an inn, asking the innkeeper to take care of him, giving him money for his troubles.

Penelope, a character in my novel, Sissy, takes pity on the men running away from Quantrill’s raiders, who, in 1863, killed nearly 200 men in Lawrence, Kansas.  One of the raiders approaches her.  “Men keep disappearing here,” one of the men growls, looking down at her with black, contemptuous eyes. “Yeah,” says another. “Where’re they hiding?” She glares back at them. “I’m not going to tell you.” Who did they think she was, she thought, a fool? The first man draws his horse nearer to her and pulls out his pistol, aiming it at her face. “Tell me, lady, or I’ll shoot you!” No man, Penelope thought, should ever dare tell her to do the wrong thing. She lived her life believing that. And she’d die—if she had to.“You may shoot me if you will, but you won’t ever find out where the men are.”

On the opposite extreme is a lack of compassion. In my historical novel, All Parts Together, Jessica’s friend Matt asks her to give widows comfort after the 1863 Quantrill raid.  “I am not capable of giving others comfort,” she finally says. “That is the reason I could never be a nurse like my friend Mary helping the wounded in this horrible war. Ask me to drive a team, charge the enemy on a battlefield, or even rescue negroes from slave states, and I would gladly do it.” She adds: “I wish I were like other women,” she said, her mouth twitching. “Docile, humble, obedient, and helpless. I wish I had all those qualities you would expect in a lady.”

Even in the 21st century, there is a great shortage of good Samaritans in the world. While part of it may be our preoccupation with ourselves and our busy lives, another part may be due to fear of litigation.  I recently received the following from a Twitter friend named Ruoxu from China. Here’s his story:

Hello, I want to tell you about a situation involving compassion in China. A few years ago, a famous lawsuit was started by an elderly lady. She was struck by a car and plummeted to the street. A young man came to her aid and took her to a hospital. However, instead of thanking him she sued him, claiming he was the one responsible for her injuries.

Since there were no witnesses or other evidence conflicting with her testimony, the court rules that the young man must compensate for her injury because ‘generally speaking, people in China have rarely helped someone in situations like this.’

This ruling all but killed any compassion people may have felt for others. After the lawsuit, most people were convinced that helping someone in desperate need was dangerous. A few days after this happened, a Chinese newspaper reported that another elderly lady fell down in the street, but this time no one came to help. She was left there in the street, severely injured, and died.

Peng Yu is the name of the young man who wanted to be compassionate. His “crime” in helping out the elderly lady was to pay her 45876.6 yuan as compensation.  [Note the photo accompanying this blog is Pena Vu while the other is a caricature of an elderly man who falls down but no one dares to help.]

Fear of getting sued by the victim precipitated Good Samaritan laws in our country. But these laws only protect the rescuer if the rescuer is not compensated monetarily for his or her own actions.  In other words, a policeman or fireman who attempts to rescue someone can still be later sued by the one who was rescued. Also, if the rescuer is later rewarded by anyone (including the person rescued), he or she can still be sued.

While fear of legal retaliation may be one reason some people may feat being a good Samaritan, I believe another major factor is preoccupation with our own selves. Now that we have all kinds of electronic devices and don’t really have to communicate face-to-face or by handwritten letters that require more thought that emails. I hope I don’t sound as if I’m judging anyone. It’s just the way things are these days.

Hard-hitting examples of compassion–or the lack thereof–exist in all of my books…can be found in all of my books. Even in a children’s chapter book called HOMER THE ROAMER. Click the cover on the right-hand of this page to get an idea about this story. You’ll wag your tail as I tell this tale about this lost and loveable little cat.

About Tom

Tom Mach wrote three historical novels: Sissy!, All Parts Together, and Angels at Sunset. Both Sissy! and All Parts Together won rave reviews and were listed among the 150 best Kansas books in 2011. Sissy! won the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award while All Parts Together was a winner in the Hollywood Book Festival. Tom also wrote a collection of short stories entitled Stories To Enjoy which received positive reviews. In addition to his new e-book entitled Homer the Roamer, directed toward children 6 - 10 yrs old, he also published Advent and An Innocent Murdered. His website is and he can be contacted by clicking on the "Contact Me" button on that website. Tom Mach is available for book club talks as well as at writing conferences and other gatherings.
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One Response to Does It Pay to be a Good Samaritan?

  1. Caryl Loper says:

    Our greatest demise will be the fall of our ability to demonstrate compassion. Compassion is the foundation to love, the unyielding source to fulfill who we are as loving beings, simply the mirrored image of God. Without compassion, the human race will no longer exist, I do believe. As compassionate spirits, we display wholehearted kindness. Every act of kindness shifts the energy and creates awareness, empathy and understanding, rings positivity. How many times have people looked the other way because of fear or ignorance? History is indicative of those consequences. Thanks for sharing your post, nicely written piece, most needed.

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