Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Have we forgotten what it means to be kind? Have we become blind to our insensitive attitudes? Have we reached a point where our concern for the self overrides our compassion for others?
These are questions that have been plaguing me for a few weeks now and it all started with an evening out in London. Last month I was standing with my mum in a queue waiting to watch the recording of Shirley Ballas’ ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ (because yes I am a cool kid who listens to Radio 2 rather than Capital FM). I was undoubtedly one of the youngest in the line with the majority of spectators being your typical upper class ‘Marks and Sparks wearing’ middle-aged women out for an evening with ‘the gals’. But it wasn’t age that made me feel distanced from others in the queue. It was a complete difference in attitude.
London – a vibrant city of culture and history – is also an area of stark contrasts between the rich and poor. As we dawdled on the pavement waiting to be let into a theatre, sauntering along the street was a homeless man dressed in tattered clothes and with only a satchel of belongings to his name. His inability to form coherent sentences combined with his uncoordinated body language made it clear he was suffering from mental health issues, an all too common experience of many street-dwellers. He was a physical representation of pitiful and my heart broke at the sight of him.
However, my emotions were clearly not shared with everyone as the gang behind me starting giggling and gossiping about his misfortune. Their judgement was clear and the need to separate themselves from the ‘riff-raff’ was apparent in the way they turned their backs on him. The worst moment was when he dropped his worn-away socks out his battered bag and stumbled onwards, unaware that what was probably one of his most prized possessions had been lost. The gaggle of women behind me laughed. “He’s lost his socks!” one shrieked with what seemed like perverse pleasure at someone else’s misery.
Even as I write this article I am aware of the hypocrisy behind it. It is easy for me to criticise those women but, though I’m ashamed to admit it, I hardly did anything to help the situation. At this point I’d like to give a shout out to my mum. Without hesitation she picked up his stinking socks and placed them to one side in case he should return for them. She ensured that they weren’t trodden on by unconcerned Londoners. In fact I was the one who discouraged her from following him and returning them, out of what was probably a misplaced fear that he might become aggressive towards her. She showed the decency and humanity that we should all aspire to, but that didn’t stop others from giving her incredulous looks for having dirtied her hands.
I don’t know if these other women were even aware of how their attitudes came across. Did they even know they were being unkind, or did they think (like most of us do if we’re being honest) that if they were just conversing with friends their repulsive remarks didn’t matter? If I had been braver I would have turned around and informed the gawkers that their catty conversation came across as cruel. If I had been kinder I would have returned the socks to the stranger on the street. If I had been friendlier maybe a lonesome individual would have felt a little loved. It was only with later reflection that I properly considered this and felt true remorse for my silent compliance.
I am not writing this to throw myself a pity-party or to earn forgiveness. I recognise how my actions (or rather lack of) were wrong and I will try to be a better person because of this experience. Instead, I felt a need to remind everyone that there is value in kindness. We are often so wrapped up in ourselves and our need to fit in that we fail to acknowledge those who fall by the wayside. Self-preservation and status has overridden our sense of societal concern for others. It is so easy to judge people and pretend its all ‘just a laugh’, but it has become so common that we have forgotten how to show sympathy.
This case in London was just one event that marked out to me how amazingly uncaring humans can be, but the evidence for it is everywhere. It is on the cover of malicious magazines that cruelly criticise any body shape that deviates from their definition of beauty. It is in our political debates that veer away from discussions on policy in favour of making personal attacks on the opposition. And it is in our everyday lives when we look at someone else and inwardly (or explicitly) make an unfair evaluation of them.
We can be better. We should be better. We will be better, if we all take a step back and remember the importance of caring. Remember, little acts of kindness, whether it be checking in on a friend, making your dad a cuppa or returning someone’s lost sock, can go a long way.