Thursday, May 25, 2017

Helpfulness & Honesty

The other night M and I watched the Quiz Show "Hirschhausen's Quiz des Menschen". It's a fun trivia show based mainly on health and biology, and we always look forward to it because we learn a lot by watching and testing our own prior knowledge.

This question appeared on last week's show:

Which is the most helpful country in the world?
   a. the USA
   b. Deutschland  (Germany)
   c. Norwegen  (Norway)

My first question - which was also asked by a contestant - was "How did they measure this?" The host, Dr. Hirschhausen, explained that a survey was done in some city of each of the countries, and the question asked was: "Have you helped someone within the last four days?"

Ok, fair enough. But then I wondered something else, which again one of the contestants verbalized as if reading my thoughts:

"But hold on - did anyone verify whether the Americans answered truthfully?"

The thing I find curious about this is that neither I nor the contestant asked that question of all persons surveyed in general - only of the Americans. What does that say?

If you ask non-Americans what stereotypes they are aware of about Americans or what they themselves think of Americans, much of what you'll hear is positive: Americans are helpful, friendly, generally happy, and smile a lot. There are negatives, too: Americans are not very smart, have little knowledge of the world outside US borders, are superficial and insincere.

I haven't heard or read, though, that Americans are dishonest. Insincere is close to that, but the most common example of that is an American saying, "Let's get together soon!" - which Germans understand to mean we're actually going to get together soon, but which actually means, in American, "See ya!" He's not really being dishonest; he's just speaking American.

So I wonder why that German contestant and I both jumped right away to assume the Americans in the survey were probably dishonest. I would imagine it's because we both have the impression that appearances are more important to Americans than the truth. That sounds pretty harsh.

Most of the Americans I personally know (as in, have spent a significant amount of time with) are honest in my view, and definitely helpful. But I think most of us would also stretch the meaning of "helping someone" when faced with that survey question.

On Monday and Tuesday this week (that's within the last four days), I subbed for a teacher who had a conflict. So I taught a small class for 8 hours. Is that helping? Somewhat, but I got paid to do it. So no. Other than that I didn't really see many people except other shoppers at the grocery store. No one stopped me on the street to ask directions, no one asked for any favors, and I didn't even have a chance to hold a door open for someone.

I would therefore have to answer "no" to the question of whether I've helped someone within the last four days. And that makes me sound like a jerk, doesn't it?

By the way, the answer to the question "Which is the most helpful country in the world?" was...
    a.) the USA.

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