Larissa MacFarquhar’s book, “Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help” is an uplifting, inspiring book. She traces the evolution of societies’ attitudes towards altruism in Europe and America. To bring altruism to life, the book includes a collection of portraits of contemporary “do-gooders”. These amazing individuals include an Indian family who started a leprosy clinic in the wilds of India and later hospitals and schools, two people who donated their kidneys, a recovering alcoholic and his wife, and a young couple who adopted over 20 children. They made incredible personal sacrifices throughout their lives out of a sense of moral obligation and the belief that everyone has an equal right to happiness.
With the exception of the Zen priest and a Protestant minister, the remaining individuals were not religious. Reading the book from a Buddhist perspective, I couldn’t help but think that these people share a bodhisattva’s dedication, endurance selflessness and genuine compassion. Like bodhisattvas, they truly feel that they are personally responsible for others’ welfare and that there’s always someone who needs their help. The book challenges us not to turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world and instead to examine our own moral constructs. Are we doing all we can to serve those in need? What more can we do?