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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Good Deed

In the past few weeks, I have slowed down for squirrels crossing the road, rabbits that could not seem to decide which way they were going, a turkey who just had to get to the other side of the road at the moment when  I was driving through, and a couple of deer. I avoided hitting them, though sometimes it was close. Usually I cannot slow down enough to allow a turtle to get all the way to the other side, and if it is a busy road, I cannot afford to stop and help it across. The most I can do is try to drive around it. But today I saw a turtle in the road that I could help, because it was in a quiet village street and not on the highway.

I parked the car on the side of the road by somebody's house, and I went to get a closer look at the turtle.

It had beautiful markings, much more vivid than those on the turtles that I come across on my own property.

I picked it up and placed it on the grass on the side that was in the direction it was headed,

I could not linger long, though, as another car was coming.

I showed the pictures to my friend Pam Keyes, and she said this was an Eastern Box Turtle, which would not normally be found in the wild  this side of the Mississippi. Is this a lost pet? Or has there been a new migration, I wonder? Either way, I hope the turtle found its way to the intended destination.

Was it a good deed to help the turtle across the road? Some people think it is not a good deed unless the doer sacrificed something. I disagree. Here are the values I was raised on:

  1. Help when it easy for you to do and would be of great value to the person helped.
  2. Don't sacrifice a higher value to a lower.
  3. Don't help habitually, but only every once in a while, when the good you do far outweighs the cost.
I learned these frugal values from my father. I would never sacrifice another human being in order to spare the life of a turtle. I would not swerve and hit another car to save that turtle. I would not feel obliged to help the same turtle cross the same road if I saw it in the same predicament yet again. And I always weigh the cost to me versus the benefit to the turtle. I do the same thing when helping other human beings.

These values are quite different from those in the culture that surrounds me. Some people think it is not a good deed unless you sacrifice a greater value to a lesser. In a young adult novel that I borrowed from my daughter, a man swerves to avoid hitting a deer and gets almost his entire family killed. (This results in his surviving daughter developing paranormal powers, which naturally catapults her into a teen occult romance. ) The action of the father in swerving is supposed to show what a good man he was. In my book, that's not a good man. That is deeply, deeply flawed.

In a movie I started to watch one night, a bleeding heart, pregnant animal rights activist trespassed onto a neighbor's property to feed a chained pitbull that she believed was being mistreated by its owner. The pitbull mauled her, caused her to miscarry and lose the ability to have children, and because of her actions, trespassing and  inciting the pitbull to attack her, the pitbull himself was put to death by the authorities. The woman was portrayed in the movie as if she were heroic. But whom did she help? Not herself, not her unborn child, not her husband -- and certainly not the dog that she got killed!

First do no harm. That should be everybody's motto. Good intentions are useless when they cause nothing but harm.  But the entire "Rescue" movement has made that woman a heroine to be emulated. 

Even when it comes to fighting for your country, people downgrade Jean Laffite because he made a profit from privateering. 

Theodosia and the Pirates

Historians  forget that it is the fact that he saved the nation that makes Laffite's contribution valuable. That it cost him less than it cost the inept Navy under Commodore Patterson is just another of Jean Laffite's many virtues. Think how much money he saved the taxpayers! You get credit for helping others to the extent that you do it at your own expense and initiative and that it does not cost anyone else anything. You get zero credit for sacrificing yourself, and you earn demerits for sacrificing others.

Goodwill to all makes us stop to help another living being, when all other things are equal. I hope that Eastern Box Turtle made it safely to its destination, whatever that may be,  and that the world is a better place for my action. But if I see that same turtle in the middle of the road again, and I cannot stop without harming someone else, I will  not save it again. Helping others is good, but it is more important to do no harm. 


  1. I liked how you tied this post into the history of Jean Laffite.The turtle is neat to see as well.

    1. Thanks, Julia. In my mind, it's all interconnected.