I am touched and cheered by Tweenbots, which is a sort of art installation thingy comprising small, basic, ambulatory cardboard robots placed in public places with no more than forward motion and a flag which brandishes their destination. They almost always arrive, because passers-by rescue them from being snarled up on curbs and potholes and things, and point them in the right direction. It's a curious piece of mental sleight-of-attitude, that the mere possession of motion and purpose should flip our inner switches from "this is an object" to "this is a fellow being". A small cardboard robot placed in a park simply to wave its arms about would probably be stolen, but one moving of its own volition seems to merit empathy and compassion, the respect due a fellow traveller.
We respond to agency, I think, because that's what we desire for ourselves, but it's vaguely hopeful that a significant proportion of random passers-by also feel the need to protect that agency in those less powerful than themselves. At least when it's in their immediate vicinity, and the action required is so simple and finite. Starving children or pilloried rape victims on other continents are a distant, complex horror against which our any action - a donation, an outraged letter - seems minor and futile, but in rescuing a cardboard robot we restore and enable in one gesture its complete and perfect purpose. We wish life could be so simple.