Am I Really Being for Others?

One topic that I feel resonated with me the most in Philosophy class is Levinas’ view on what a human is. For him, to be human entails Being for Others. Personally, I feel that I respond to this responsibility for the Other most of the time or for as long as I am able to. I always feel inclined to attend to the needs of the people around me, especially my friends and family. Some of my friends even find me “motherly” in a sense that if a friend needs something; I find a way to tend to their needs. A favorite example that my friends would mention would be when someone says “I’m hungry” or tells me that she has not eaten, I would automatically whip out my Lock ‘n Lock containers and offer them some of my baon.  

Upon further reflection however, I realized that majority of the time I consider the Other to be a friend or someone I am close to. But if the Other is a stranger, my answer to his call is not automatic; it takes some time of debating on whether or not I should respond and act. This thought came into my mind during a Psychology experiment that I attended. Unknown to me was the fact that the experiment was to test the Bystander Effect given different circumstances. They made me enter the room thinking I was alone with just the experimenter, who asked me to read a story and answer questions after within a limited amount of time. While answering the test, the experimenter excused himself from the room leaving me alone. I then heard pens fall to the ground behind me but me thinking that no one was there and completely focused on finishing the test, I chose not to look behind to see what had fallen or even bother to pick it up. It was only after the experimenter came in and told me that the test was not real, that I came to know it was to see if I would respond and help the person in the room. I felt conflicted afterwards, I was surprised that I did not bother helping the girl out. Though I find it odd that they would make someone magically appear, I was shocked on how I prioritized the test more than the Other.

I started questioning then, was I really Being for the Other? Or was my “Other” a chosen one, dependent on a certain criteria.These thoughts escalated even further when I have to deal with the Other whom I am not quite fond of. There is this classmate who I used to be close with and is now somewhat a stranger to me, merely the Other to me. Coming close to the day of our finals, she asked me for my notes– the notes that I worked hard on because I simply couldn’t grasp the lessons. There was a call, a call for help because even she couldn’t grasp the lessons and was holding on by the tips of her fingers to keep her grades up. I know that there was a responsibility for me to respond, but I chose not to. I didn’t even reply to her message all because I felt that I worked hard on it, and she should to. Another is this girl who I work with in Church, and we haven’t had the smoothest relationship in the past. In terms of work ethics, we clash; as well as in our morals and beliefs. However, since we are both in the same organization, and she is our leader, I remain respectful and nice. The thing is, I know she has a problem– some kind of problem or sickness that makes her act the way she does; and I get it. But even with this, even with that cry of “please take care of me” or “please respect me,” I tend not to and overlook it. I choose to deny the call of the Other.

Am I really Being for Others? Am I really as nice as how my friends would describe me? I wonder if I can still be considered as Human in Levinas’ terms if my Being relies on a condition of who the Other is. I believe this is something that I have to work on and to further reflect upon. If I truly want to continue Being for Others, I cannot set a limit to who the Other is, I must be able to consider even a stranger as the Other, and be truly human.  

-Ryanna Polancos, JTA-A


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