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Are We Responsible for Another Person’s Choices?

Prince-William-and-Kate-Middleton-leave-hospital-in-London-1212-3

Prince William and Kate Middleton leaving hospital in London

The Australian DJs who pranked the hospital where British royal, Kate Middleton, was being treated have reportedly lost their jobs, or at least have had their show suspended.  While the prank itself, received much publicity and air-play, Jacintha Saldanha, the  nurse who the DJs convinced they were the Queen and Prince Charles, has apparently committed suicide.

This incident raises the question, “are we responsible for another person’s choices?”  Or maybe it would be better asked, “when do we become responsible for another person’s choices?”

The DJs, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, I’m nearly certain, would quickly answer “no!” while I’m pretty sure that  Jacintha Saldanha’s family would say “yes!”  Is it appropriate to blame these DJs, who were doing what they often do as part of the entertainment that on-air personalities provide their listeners?  Should they be held responsible for the choice that Jacintha Saldanha made to end her life?  Or are the decisions that we make our own?

This question is strikingly similar to one asked in the Jewish Tanakh, when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was.  Cain curtly replied, “I know not, am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9, LXX) The similarity sadly continues when we note that Cain had just killed his brother.

The implication of this passage, and much of the rest of Holy Writ, is “yes, you are your brother’s keeper.”  Or brought back into our situation, “yes, we are responsible for another person’s choices.”

This needs to be qualified, however.  If we are just going about our own business and someone makes a poor choice; clearly, we’re not responsible for that.  Additionally, if we are attempting to help someone the best that we know how, by getting them help; or confronting them about dangerous things they are doing in their life; or even sharing with them what we believe God says in His Word about their lifestyle; and we’re doing these things with love and tact, then here again, I don’t believe that we’re responsible.

Australian DJs Mel Greig (left) and Michael Christian

I believe that responsibility comes when we are mean-spirited, have evil intentions, or even if we are careless in how we treat people.  Responsibility also comes, I believe, when by our actions we cause someone to do something that we know is wrong.

In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus makes this clear when he says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV).  I know that we’re not certain if Jacintha Saldanha believed in Jesus, or not, but the principle that Jesus presents in this passage is that we should value other people and be careful not to cause them to do wrong.

If you are wondering if the DJs actually caused Jacintah Saldanah to do “wrong,” I would suggest that England has similar laws such as HIPAA, in the Unites States, making the sharing of confidential medical information illegal.  Even if it was just a violation of hospital policy, this could be enough to cause Jacintah Saldanah to feel as though she had done wrong.

Another clear teaching of both Jewish and Christian Scriptures is to “Love your neighbor as yourself”(Leviticus 19:18 & Mark 12:31, NIV).  Loving our neighbor as ourself should cause us to think before we make someone the butt of our jokes, recipient of our pranks, subject of our name-calling, or victim of our hate.  I doubt seriously that these DJs (or any of us) would like being tricked into violating the policy of our workplace, local or federal laws, Biblical or religious convictions, or even our own conscience.  It could even be said that willingly causing someone public embarrassment is a violation of God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jacintha Saldanha

I’m not going to get deeply into the “who is my neighbor” question, but Jesus seemed to make it clear in His parable of the Good Samaritan that your neighbor is anyone you come across who is in need (Luke 10:25-37).  I think that these DJs came across that nurse in need.  She was in need of respect.  She was in need of protection from public humiliation.  She was in need of simply being left alone.  And these DJs, instead of providing for her needs by leaving her alone, acted more like the robber in Jesus’ parable and attacked her, then left her for dead.

We can bring this home and apply it to our lives a lot easier.  Do you simply disregard the needs of people you come in contact with by using your words to hurt them?  Do you refuse to practice God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” by simply ignoring those around you who are in need?  Do you not recognize your neighbors all around you as you casually go about your day, not caring who you hurt by your actions or who continues to suffer by your insensitivity or lack of regard for their condition?

The best way to remedy this problem is to adjust your vision.  What I mean by this is choosing to see people through God’s eyes.  Asking God to allow you to see the hurts and needs of people, seeing through their veneer or facade to what is inside.  When we begin to see people as God does, it will be more difficult for us to mistreat them or ignore them.

I have made the decision to see people differently, to try to see their needs instead of seeing what irritates me about them or what I think they’re doing wrong.  I want to see people as God does, so that I can try to love them as God does and then do what I can to help them.

I encourage you to try to do the same.  Accept God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” whether you believe in God or not.  Doing the right thing for people can help them to make the right choices, life-honoring choices, choices that you can be happy with them that they have made.  It certainly won’t hurt you and will only serve to make our world a better place to live!

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(Photo credits:  Prince William & Kate Middleton, SkyLiving. Sky.com; Meg Greig & Michael Christian, The New York Times Media Decoder; Jacintha Saldanha, Daily Mail online; 2 women, Your Dictionary.com)

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2 comments on “Are We Responsible for Another Person’s Choices?

  1. If we were to assign blame for this we might look at the news media who made this an international story. People make mistakes, and this incident was full of people making mistakes! However, I like your article, and yes as believers we are to love others as ourselves, and we are our brothers keeper, and some people were irresponsible in this incident.

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