I was walking home from the library yesterday when I noticed a homeless man in the middle of a busy street. He was older, frail, and weathered from a tough life. He had a shopping card filled with bottles and cans that was half-empty. At his feet, cans were rolling around - they'd fallen out of the top of his garbage bag and dispersed throughout the intersection. He was struggling to pick them up.
As I walked closer, I noticed that there were people milling around on the corners.
Not one person went to help him. Out of a group of probably 20 people (this was a busy intersection), not one person walked out there. They all noticed him, watched him, but chose not to help someone who was clearly struggling.
So, I went out into the intersection and helped him pick up the cans. It took all of 5 minutes out of my day. He thanked me and then I went on my way.
I'm not writing down this story for people to give me a pat on the backs or to show I'm better than other people. I'm writing this story because I am completely awed by the lack of compassion I witnessed. How a large group of people could just watch someone struggling (someone who has already had a tough life), and just....stand there.
The world is a dark, mean place. It's always been that way. There has always been struggle and pain and fear and loneliness and unfairness. It's inherent in being alive. But damn, can't we make it a little better by being compassionate? Can't we help one another? Can't we slow down for a second and look the fuck around and notice other people (and animals) are suffering and they need help? That maybe the key to survival is not just looking out for ourselves, but for others? At least a little bit?
This lack of compassion has seemed to seep into everything. Yes, I'm looking at you consumerism and neo-capitalism and marketing and politics. These things tend to divide us - we are ranked and placed and assorted by how much we have and how much we work and what we can provide and what we look like. And only those who check the correct boxes are worthy of compassion. The poor, the sick, the different, the "others"....these are people that don't have inherent value and so they are demonized or forgotten.
For example, if an old white woman had dropped her bag in the middle of the street and couldn't pick it up....I'm sure 5 or 6 people would have rushed out to help her. An old homeless man with cans? Forget it. He probably deserves it. He's probably a drug-addict or alcoholic. He's probably dangerous. He's probably a bad person. We can't do nice things for those kinds of people - they'll take advantage of us, right?
I know this kind of stuff makes people uncomfortable. But, look around at the world. This way of living - this inherent selfishness and greed is destroying the planet. It's tearing us apart. This structure is broken. It's completely broken. It's been broken for a long time. And why? Because we've let it get to this point. Like a frog put into a pot of water - we never realized we were getting boiled until it was too late.
So where do we go from here?
Live compassionately to the fullest extent.
We all need to ask ourselves - what are we doing to make the world a better place? Do you donate to charities? Do you limit your meat/dairy/egg consumption? Do you try not to buy things that you don't need? Do you defend those who can't speak for themselves? Are you making an effort to do the right thing? Do you have strong morals that are not swayed by shiny nice things? Do you treat people with respect? Do you help people who are less fortunate than you?
It's not easy. I know it's not. I need to step up my compassion game (and actually writing out this post is making me think of a lot of things I need to do differently). It doesn't matter how hard it might be - being compassionate is important. This system we're living within pits us against each other, but we're all on the same team. It's time we started to recognize that and make changes to reflect that. Lasting happiness doesn't come from things or money or power - lasting happiness comes from feeling like you're making a positive change in the world.
Lasting happiness comes from picking up cans in the middle of the street.
(Photo by Mink Mingle)