I sometimes enjoy reading about the results of public opinion polls and surveys, if for no other reason than to find out just how far outside the mainstream my opinions on certain subjects might be. A poll that caught my eye this past week was one where a random group of people were asked what they would do if they encountered a runaway bus that was hurtling toward a dog and a human, and they only had time to save one of the two.
The circumstances affected their answers quite a bit, of course. Most people would choose to save the human if they didn’t know either the dog or the person. But if it was their own dog in the path of that deadly bus and the human was a stranger to them, a greater percentage of the respondents, 40%, said they would save their beloved pet and allow the random stranger to meet his or her maker.
The author of the story I read about this poll seemed taken aback that the percentage of people would choose to save a dog’s life rather than a human life, under any circumstances, was so high. I was actually surprised that the number who would choose to save the family pet was that low.
I guess we have to account for the likelihood that some of the people who took the survey have never owned a dog and don’t know how awesome they are. If they had targeted the survey at dog lovers I think the number who would save Fido over some random person would have been over 80%.
I can assure you that unless that imperiled human was a close friend or family member, I would absolutely try and save my dog in that scenario. Maybe if I had time to think it over I’d deliberate a bit over the relative value of a human versus an animal’s life before I decided what to do, but in the heat of a split-second decision our emotions will always be the deciding factor. And my emotions would drive me to save what matters most to me.
If I‘m being honest, I’m not sure that any amount of time I might spend deliberating the situation would change my decision. As I grow older my appreciation of dogs and other non-human forms of life has increased while my opinion of my own species has grown more and more pessimistic.
I know what some of you are thinking – people were made in the image of God and we have souls, so saving a human over an animal should be a given no matter what your relationship with the parties involved might be.
I would respond to that line of reasoning by pointing out that the Bible says the Lord once grew so frustrated with humanity that he flooded the entire planet to kill almost everyone who was alive at the time. Of course, most of the animals were killed as well, but they were merely innocent bystanders that became collateral damage.
Can you imagine God sending a worldwide cataclysm to our planet because he was disappointed with dogs or cats or horses? Neither can I. But if you look at how people are behaving today, both in our country and in many other parts of the globe, it’s not hard to imagine a deity becoming so disappointed with us he might decide to scrap the whole human experiment and start over.
I’m no deity, of course, just a typical human who makes more than my share of mistakes. And maybe my answer to the dog-versus-human runaway bus scenario is morally wrong, but I’m unlikely to change my mind. So look both ways before you cross the street and I’ll keep my dog on a leash and we’ll just avoid putting this ethical conundrum to a real-world test.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.