November 3, 2016 by Cláudia
The world we live in often strikes us as terribly unfair, sick and cruel. Luckily, a lot of people are speaking up for human rights, gender equality and the end of racism. A lot of cultural movements are being discussed but there are some people who seem to be systematically left out. No one talks about them, legally they don’t exist, to the Government they don’t have rights and to most citizens they are just an inconvenient, a slightly disturbing piece of landscape that doesn’t quite fit in but isn’t important enough to bother to change.
We live our lives mostly avoiding these people, trying to ignore they exist as if that would actually erase their existence. We have other troubles and worries. We rush down the streets, late for work or school or a social appointment when all of a sudden, in a moment of carelessness, our gaze falls on a degraded figure. That figure is a human being like ourselves, even though it may seem otherwise at first sight. Then it suddenly hits us – the one we are looking at, in the very same street we are rushing to a now seemingly pointless appointment, doesn’t have a home. Or family. Or hobbies, favorite TV-shows or social causes. Or purpose. That person hardly has any connection with Humanity at all. He or she, just lays there and wanders through the streets with no real destination, enduring the harsh weather conditions, Human disdain and having no other choice if he/she wants to survive than to beg.
The fact that there are people who live with no dignity whatsoever, not in a far away country but in our exact street, hits us like a train. Suddenly, everything we used to have on our minds, all the trivial daily preoccupations, seem completely irrelevant seeing that another human being has a life so miserable that our worst personal situation would be to him a blessing. The realization that another human being has no chance to achieve happiness or consolation is too much to handle. To put ourselves in their shoes, to really experience compassion would be so destructive to our own lives that any type of tranquility would figure impossible.
So we block it. We block them. Our lives need to move on, we don’t have the ability to change everything alone, maybe they are addicted to drugs, we have worked so much to earn our money. We convince ourselves they are not good people, as if being a good person was a condition to deserve basic human conditions. We assume they made wrong choices and forget that external constraints could doom anyone to failure. We have to make assumptions about their lives, treating every case as the same situation and thereby justify our indifference.
Yet this rationalization doesn’t keep our conscience from reacting negatively when we actually see the colossal difference that separates our opportunities and theirs. So we train ourselves to block it. After a while we can hardly see or notice them anymore. The heart hardens and cannot feel compassion – it hurts too much. We purposefully distract ourselves from their existence. Eventually, someone troublesome will point out the injustice. To this, we have to react quickly and coldly – “He’s probably a drug addict“. If we give them a coin, we don’t look them in the eyes and feel very proud with our own generosity as if we were revolutionizing their life. Regardless of how we act, one thing is common: we try as hard as we can to not see, not think and specially not feel.
But I feel. Everyday I see someone homeless I feel all their pain inside my heart and sometimes it doesn’t seem like I will be able to recover. A lifelong of sufferings all felt in one second is like being stabbed. When I see a homeless person I think about how lucky I am that I have a family and a home. I feel betrayed by society that doesn’t take care of everyone. I think about how, with effort and will, some of their lives could be completely recovered. How they could have a chance but probably never will because people don’t see them as human beings. When I see a homeless person, I look them in the eyes, from equal to equal. I feel sorrow and regret. It hurts, but I feel. And because I feel, I know I will change something.
When I see a homeless person I always say to myself: I will change this.