From her kitchen window in Auburn, Illinois, 19-year-old Ashley Aldridge had a clear view of the railroad crossing 100 yards away and a man in a wheelchair stuck between the tracks.
The man was yelling for help as a motorcycle and two cars went by without stopping.
As the crossing gate was clanging down, she ran, barefoot, over a gravel path along the tracks. When she got to the man, the train was less than half a mile away. Failing to dislodge the wheelchair, she wrapped her arms around the man’s chest but couldn’t lift him. As the train barreled toward them, she pulled with a mighty heave yanking him out of the chair. Within seconds, the train smashed the wheelchair, carrying fragments of steel and plastic half a mile up the track.
Aldridge didn’t stand at her kitchen window, curse at the train, or rant in anger about those who passed. She ran to save the man.
Many of us believe we are in a similar position in this country. There is a “train” of autocracy and violence bearing down on the country that will “smash” all that we know as good.
Aldridge’s episode above, from “The Science of Good and Evil” in the January 2018 issue of National Geographic, outlines what makes people especially giving or cruel. Her heroic rescue is an example of extreme altruism — “a selfless act to help those unrelated to oneself at the risk of grave personal harm.”
Researchers now have an understanding of the science of what drives good and evil: “Extreme altruists and psychopaths exemplify our best and worst instincts. On one end of the moral spectrum, sacrifice and generosity that we recognize as good; on the other end, selfishness, and violence that we see as evil.”
Both traits, good and evil, are based on a key emotional trait: “Empathy is the intrinsic ability of the brain to experience how another person is feeling. It’s what impels us to help others in distress.”
Violent, psychopathic, and antisocial behaviors, on the other hand, result from the brain’s lack of empathy.
Humans evolved the desire to help one another because cooperation within large social groups was essential to survival. But because groups had to compete for resources, the willingness to maim and possibly kill opponents was also crucial.
We have thus evolved to be the most social and the most violent species on Earth, exhibiting as a result of that evolution those good and evil traits.
The “train” of evil from the White House cannot be turned around.
Moreover, our actions in opposition can make matters worse. Trump’s support is enhanced by public expressions of anger and aggression.
So just like Ashley Aldridge, let us get away from our “window” of complaining, and ignore “the motorcycle and two cars that went by without stopping.” Let us put Trump out of our minds, transform our anger to work and race, even “barefoot” over the “gravel path,” and get the country off the “tracks” before nothing can be done.
That means getting out the vote to change our government in the 2018 election. Nothing else matters.
To work on the 2018 elections, readers may contact:
The Democratic Party of Oak Park, 708-386-0090
Oak Park Area Indivisible, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Coalition for a Better 6th, http://betterillinois6th.com/
Sean for Congress, https://www.castenforcongress.com/
James Dickert is a resident of Oak Park.