Thursday, January 14, 2010

The spirit of Christmas

On Christmas Eve an elderly Italian lady left a bag containing $21,000, jewelry, and several international passports on the back seat of a New York cab. The police told her there was little chance of recovering the bag. But the cab driver, a 28-old Bangladeshi born student, drove 50 miles to hand back the money and turned down the reward he was offered. Corroborating theories which say that our moral decisions are guided by unconscious emotional reactions, he said his heart had told him he could not keep the money. Two years ago a violinist left his astronomically expensive Stradivarius in a cab near New York City, and the driver who returned it was also Muslim. So, the seemingly “oppressive” nature of strict Islamic beliefs may also be helping keep people’s selfish impulses in check. Christianity once played a similar role, before previous deadly sins were turned into an engine of economic growth. Now, selfless acts by poor cab drivers are now met almost with disbelief. And law enforcement and the provision of public goods become really thankless tasks.