I am a big fan of The Walking Dead. Not because of the imaginative and entertaining ways they come up with to kill zombies but because of the very real moral issues they have to deal with on a daily basis to survive. The main group meets lots of new people as they forage for food and shelter; lots of “strangers”. In a world like that, strangers are the great unknown and we all know how humanity fears the unknown. Is the stranger friendly or will he try to take what little we have, and will he try to kill us to get it? Every new person is a potential threat. So here in lies the dilemma… when the world is falling apart and all resources are scarce is it ok to consider someone a threat before they have proven that they actually are and act accordingly; which could include killing them before they have a chance to kill you? From strictly a survival stand point the answer is yes but you see humans have evolved beyond just “being”. Life is not just about being alive but how we go about living. Since man has been able to reason and ponder his existence, it has no longer been enough to just be alive; our lives actually have to stand for something. They have to have meaning. This leads us to the questions… is life really worth living in a constant state of fear, suspicion, and suffering? What value does a human life have if it is just mindlessly surviving long enough to reproduce? Is there a grander ideal that even in the direst of circumstances we should be trying to attain?
The characters in The Walking Dead all have asked themselves these questions. Some have come to the conclusion that they will do whatever it takes to protect themselves and the others they know and care about. They are unwilling to risk accepting any newcomers; other’s feel that every new person deserves a chance to prove themselves and is willing to take the risk for the greater good. Because once you get to know someone they are no longer a stranger and most often we come to care about the people we know.
This parallels very well with the current Syrian Refugee debate that is going on in this country. There is a large group of people that think we should close our borders to these people (strangers) in need in the off chance that a dangerous terrorist might slip through among them. Humanists and other empathetic Americans disagree with letting fear overrule compassion. Some of us do not want to just survive but instead want the entire human race to thrive together. Empathy has evolved in humans specifically for this purpose. It has been genetically selected because humans not only survive when they cooperate and care for each other but we reach our full potential to flourish as a species with less suffering.
I am so glad that there are people out there like Brandon Stanton; he is using his Humans of New York blog to tell the stories of Syrian Refugee families. It is much harder to be callous when you “know” who they really are. A stranger is just an unfamiliar entity but once we learn their story they become familiar and some become so close that they become family. When will we learn that we are all part of the human family?
Religion has tried to impart values but religion is divisive and separates the human family into groups. Dogma has made it very clear that thou shall not kill those within your ideological group but all other groups are fair game. Moral issues are decided very differently under the guise of dogmatic preference. The same goes for nationalism. We must help those from our same country but children, families, people outside our country can perish. But these are all labels we have given each other; once those labels are removed we are all the same. It is only our individual way of thinking that sets us apart, not where we live or what god we worship. Some choose fear and in honor of Star Wars day a quote from Yoda… “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Instead what does compassion look like in The Walking Dead world? Do people still die? Of course they do; that is always inevitable. Instead it is how they live that really matters. Do they help everyone in need? Even if helping them might put them in a dangerous situation? Even if some are making poor decisions that put the rest of them in danger? Do they exile those people knowing that if they survive and hook up with other people, they may come back to try and take what they have? I’m still working out my own answers to those questions but there is a very interesting character named Morgan that has vowed not to kill any living person because “all life is precious”. Even if they are attacking him, his goal is to subdue and try to reason with them instead of kill them. He believes his life only has value if he values the lives of others. Otherwise he is no different than the “Walking Dead”.