An Intelligence Test I Failed – Or Did I?

Prologue

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold “two opposed ideas” at the same time—and remain sane… Is this an intelligence test?

I think we’ve all been there, although some of us have found retaining our sanity in this situation a lot more difficult than others!

Fitzgerald – test of intelligence

Then there’s Aristotle…

For him, the mark of an educated mind is the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it… I think we’ve all been there too—particularly in a political season…

Aristotle - The mark of an educated mind is to entertain a thought without accepting it

But, what about this? What if the two opposing thoughts or ideas BOTH seem right? Indeed, can they BOTH be right?

And, if we can’t decide between the two, can we then just stay on the fence and remain neutral? Elie Wiesel seems to say: “No!” For him, we should always get off the fence and pick a side…

Wiesel – Taking sides

But what if there’s no clear oppressor or tormentor?

And what if we believe that the two opposing views BOTH seem quite reasonable? Why shouldn’t we then respect both opposing views? But, if we are to follow Elie Wiesel, how then do we decide what to do—which thought to accept and act upon?

I don’t know about any of you, but this is beginning to hurt my mind…

The gift of this story is that, in our quest to bring our ideas to life, we can indeed be faced with situations in which two diametrically opposite positions can each be justified, accepted and respected. As my story will sadly reveal, in my case, I could find no magic formula to help me decide what to do…

A totally true story…

So, I’m taking my dog, Bruce, on our midday walk. Normally, I walk him almost around the block. As I get to a main street, I always turn around and retrace my steps. I’m not crazy about walking along that busy street to return home.

On this particular day, as I turn into the first corner of our walk, I see an apparently homeless man leaning into a shopping cart. I can’t see his face. He has a sheet over his head and upper body.

As I get closer, I see the man is now doubled over the cart in obvious pain. He’s apparently in terrible discomfort. He’s wrenching and moaning. Or is he screaming? He drops to the grass in a fetal position. He still has the sheet over his head and I still can’t see his face or upper body. He doesn’t stop moaning and screaming for a moment. Nobody is near him other than me. As I look around, it doesn’t seem as if he was bothering anyone.

Embarrassed, my first reaction is to flee—and I do. As I flee, shame, embarrassment and guilt engulf me. Although I had absolutely no reason to fear that he might lunge towards me with a knife or worse, this is indeed what I feared. Perhaps irrationally, I didn’t wanna take that chance. I crossed the street.

As I fled and made the turn around the next corner, he vanished from view. As he vanished, though, my shame, embarrassment and guilt never left me for a moment. It was then that the first of the two opposite thoughts flashed before me…

Two opposing thoughts…

My first thought upset me to the core—

What if this poor man was quite sick—or perhaps even seriously injured? After all, with the sheet over him, for all I knew he may have had a serious knife wound in his chest or back…

But what if I continued my flight and did nothing? What if this would almost certainly have increased his suffering? And, worse, what if he later died from a lack of immediate treatment?

How, I thought, could I POSSIBLY ever have lived with myself if any of this happened? How could I POSSIBLY do nothing?

Mortified, I made a decision. I retraced my steps and turned back towards the man. I took out my phone. I would dial 911, I decided, to request an ambulance…

Then, I hesitated as a second competing thought now crossed my mind…

What if the man was simply drunk? And what if he’d been drinking because of a personal tragedy he’d just experienced? Really who was I to interfere? Wasn’t he entitled to be left alone? And what if my interference would just add to his woes and made everything much worse for him?

And worse, I imagined, what if I called an ambulance and they then called the police? And what if the police then found drugs on him that might be a felony? But what if he’d already committed two felonies? This third felony would commit him to prison for the rest of his life under the California three-strikes law. Wouldn’t this now be my fault alone? And what if his family was depending on him for support? And what if his imprisonment destroyed his family? And what if he suffered unimaginably in prison and even died there? How could I possibly EVER have lived with any of this?

Wasn’t this exactly what F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aristotle and Elie Wiesel were talking about? Indeed, weren’t these two opposing thoughts and ideas? Wasn’t there some merit to each? Wasn’t remaining neutral and sitting on the fence simply an unimaginable and unacceptable option?

So, what did I do?

The answer came quickly and perhaps too easily to me…

I dialed 911. I asked for someone to come and help the man…

As I anticipated, a firetruck and, later, an ambulance, arrived. Those good folks then called the police, who arrested him…

And what then happened?

I have no idea…

And how do I now feel?

Apprehensive…

Was I right to interfere?

I have no idea…. Will I ever know?

Would I make the same choice again?

Dunno…