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Do we have a moral imperative to help others?

If one includes others, please define "others". For example, are "others" family, friends, community, city, state, country, or world? Are others the most needy and/or the least powerful such as children or women in a poverty stricken country? When answering, keep in mind our innate ability as humans to self deceive, and answer based on one's current use of time, money, and emotional surplus, if any, rather than words absent of corresponding action.

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    Feb 10 2013: Depends heavily on you, you can be someone that put his family first or do anything for his friends. no one can draw a line for you or say what you must do. It's just vary with who you are.
    But it's always nice and great to put others first and help them. it's beyond a good did. You can and should choose who or what you want to help.
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    Feb 11 2013: We are responsible for what gives us life; namely the environment in which we live and the people who help make it a working ecosystem.

    Our primary responsibility begins with self-development, for without this, we become a burden on others. We are not responsible for the failure of others, but we should take responsibility for helping others to become responsible for themselves, for we are not in this life alone. Our failure to help others in need justifies their failure to help us when we are in need. Yet to help others without discretion is to place unnecessary burdens on ourselves. It takes careful thought. We give as we are able, but should never give more than we are able; to him whom much is given, much will be required.
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    Feb 11 2013: What kind of resposibility ?
    You know, if we know ourselves responsible for other's morality and behavior, and correct them in our way of thinking, first by kind advices and then by violence, soon we will have what is happening in extremist-political countries like where I live, Iran. I mean, some kind of totalitarianism.
    But If you mean the responsibility of caring about the others, and giving them what they want, it depends on yourself, and how much love exist between you and them.
    But as Max, in the movie of "Mary and Max" said, "First love yourself."
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    Feb 10 2013: I believe I'm first responsible for myself, but then to help others concurrently. For example, I may pick up trash in my neighborhood to help myself cause I hate looking at it; but it helps other cause they don't have to look at it.
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    Feb 10 2013: G'day Brian

    One should be responsible for all of one's environment which is basically everything.

  • Feb 11 2013: Isn't oneself enough and hard enough?
    • Feb 11 2013: It certainly can be. That is why I targeted the question towards those that have financial, temporal, and emotional surplus. Thanks for responding.
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    W. Ying

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    Feb 11 2013: .
    We have to be responsible for ourselves and our symbiotic members of family, friends, community, .... all humankind.

    (For SYMBIOSIS, see the 1st article, points 4-8, at
  • Feb 13 2013: Hi Kate. The reason I used the term social entrepreneur is because I invest my own money and time in projects, not other people's money. This gives me more leeway and I can take on more risk while charities and NGOs may have a more narrow focus and have to be accountable to their donors.

    I came back from Haiti recently and have funded books for schools, laptops, medical supplies, and micro finance initiatives an hour east and north of Port-Au-Prince. I am funding schooling, healthcare, and nutrition for kids in Dominica and have helped finance projects in Honduras and Tanzania. Without getting too long winded, I have "adopted" seven kids in my community that needed a dad (I have four biological boys of my own) and have a masters degree in counseling. I have a passion for learning with an emphasis on social and evolutionary psychology, ethics, behavioral biology, anthropology, and neuroscience. Please don't interpret the above as a congratulatory pat on the back. I have a lot to be grateful for and words can make things seem much more impressive than they really are. I am as much of a hypocrite in regards to my beliefs versus my actions as anyone else.

    I posed the question on TED because I want someone to challenge and convince me that it is not a moral imperative under my particular circumstances. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. However, it would be great for it to be a nice thing to do rather than the right thing to do. Maybe we can discuss the evolutionary influence of ethics for another day.
  • Feb 13 2013: Hi Allan. Thanks for responding. I am a little confused. Is it what one decides is moral or what the group decides?
  • Feb 13 2013: Depends on what one decides is moral ... morality is a convention agreed to by a group/society.
  • Feb 11 2013: "Then as Farokh says its nice to help others as we are able, but being responsible for them is something very different. At most we can lead by example but ultimately we are each responsible for our own words and actions."

    Hi Kate. I appreciate your response and would like to dig a little deeper so we can challenge each other. Responsibility for ones own words and actions (or inactions) implies both power and choice. However, many children and individuals possess neither. Now let's assume that both you and I do possess power and choice and therefore are responsible for our own words and actions. If we walked by a young child who was starving and we had surplus food than would it be nice to feed her but not necessarily our responsibility? If we didn't feed the child, wouldn't our emotions tell us otherwise making us feel responsible for our inaction?
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      • Feb 11 2013: Thanks Kate and everyone for responding. I realize my question needed to be more precise because much was lost in the assumptions both I and the respondents were making. I changed the word from responsible to help so we can all be on the same page. I hope the revision is more clear and I would like to provide some context.

        As a social entrepreneur who works on projects in three developing countries, I see many cases of children who are invisible with no power or choice. My projects focus on giving them power and choice through food, education, and health care which, guilty as charged, imposes my standard of responsibility (moral helping).

        Kate, I used the words "time, money, and emotional surplus" in my elaboration of the original question to imply excess and within one's capacity in order to avoid being overwhelmed. I, at times, have to remember to stay within my circle of competence and "chunk it down" into small manageable actions so I don't become overwhelmed.

        You are right. I was implying that one would feel guilty in my example. Based on our moral intuitive channel of care/harm as discussed by Jonathan Haidt, these channels appear to be embedded in all of us and was exemplified in your "impelled to give" response. However, they are merely rough drafts which become revised by environment. Thanks for the discussion.
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      • Feb 11 2013: I agree. Giving her one meal may be hugely beneficial for both her stomach and my conscience for the moment but does little good over the long term.
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          Feb 12 2013: And this very simple small action on our part just might make ALL the difference.