What is “I”?
Walking on water is often used to illustrate the impossible. Water is a liquid substance so walking on it would be impossible for anything with any amount of weight at all, especially a man. Anyone who actually could walk on water might therefore be something other than a mere mortal. Of course, they might just be a mathematician.
Someone asked me why I thought altruism was worth one hundred and ninety-six days of blog posts. In truth, I think it really deserves three hundred and sixty-five but I felt using Pentecost for this purpose would suffice. We all live on this planet together and while rational thought would reveal that being cooperative provided a better future than not, the history of mankind is not one of cooperation. Also today someone pointed out that Egypt was not the only country that occupied territory in both Europe and Asia. That is true, generally speaking. However, at times in our history, Turkey and Russia have no; I ought to have said Egypt was the only consistent nation that had always been Euro-Asian transcontinental. I extend my apologies for the error. Turkey and Russia do illustrate my point about cooperation and the lack thereof. The idea of altruism has not always been evident in their history but that can also be said of practically every nation so please do not feel I am singling them out for harsh treatment.
As I went about trying to determine a great way to explication my feeling of why altruism was important I came upon an old proverb: “Blood is thicker than water.” Is this really a true proverb? The answer is yes…and no. It is thought that the original saying referred to a blood covenant made with someone, implying that the blood oath superseded all other covenants, even with someone with whom one had shared a womb (a relative or sibling, in other words). Today the proverb has been turned around to mean family is stronger than acquaintance. Blood rituals were historically quite popular so it is not surprising that the first hint of this saying appeared in 1180 ACE in “Reynard the Fox” written by Heinrich der Glîchezære. The original “Kin-blood is not spoilt by water” later became “blood is thicker than water” in John Ray’s “proverbs” published in 1670. Sir Walter Scoot is generally credited with this saying although his use did not appear until 1815 in his novel “Guy Mannering”.
The argument against altruism is based upon this saying. It espouses that one should take of family. If all families took care of themselves then there would be no need for altruism. In other words, that cup coffee I suggested yesterday that you forego in order to donate to a charity could instead be enjoyed. The problem with that line of thought is that not everyone has family to help them. Life sometimes creates circumstances that necessitate our needing help from other outside parties.
Honey is thicker than water. I doubt anyone would argue that. Honey is thicker because of its viscosity, the thickness or gooeyness that is has which is greater than that of water. The viscosity of water led mathematicians to determine exactly when water might be thick and how to create such an event. If one could make water thicker, then might a mere mortal possibly be able to walk on water? The answer lies in something called non-Newtonian fluids.
Non-Newtonian fluids sound very complicated but basically they are fluids whose viscosity or thickness changes dependent upon the stress implied on them. Think about your grandmother. She most likely is a very sweet lady until someone threatens her family. Then she becomes a “Mama Bear”, protecting and defending her family with all her might. The change resulted in her no longer sitting quetly doing crochet but instead ready to do battle and take on the world.
Non-Newtonian fluids lack well-defined values. What happens when you add cornstarch to water? It thickens which is why many Oriental cooks call it the magic ingredient. It takes their liquid from a watery texture to a thick gravy-like sauce. Given the right circumstances, one can actually walk on water because the viscosity can be altered in such a way that it can support someone’s weight.
Plato first said “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” The stress of having power des indeed change some people and makes their attitude towards others rather “thick” or insensitive. Samuel Johnson said “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” Others have said similar phrases from Dr. Martin Luther Kings, Jr to the infamous Harry Potter in the books written by J. K. Rowling.
“I” is an unknown factor until challenges, until stress is apaplied. We all are akin to non-Newtonian fluids because our real value will never be seen until we are tested. How we treat others can be a good indication, though. Altruism is not just doing good deeds. Altruism is creating a better life for us all. We will still be mere mortals but we will be one step closer to walking together into the future.