Why is it so easy to steal from the poor? Why do so few people have scruples about it? And I'm not just talking the MoneyMarts of this world, Why do we not hesitate to keep for ourselves what was destined for someone else? Why can't we even look at the poor, or maybe even talk to them? Are we afraid the condition is airborne and contagious?
The setting is Vancouver's Gas Town. Gas Town = Very close to the Downtown East Side, Canada's poorest postal code with about one begging person in front of every restaurant. And yes, also the location of where Vancouverites covered themselves in Glory recently by having a homeless man light his hair on fire in exchange for one cigarette.
There is a little birthday get-together at the Old Spaghetti Factory. A Woman, her Partner, her Female Friend, her Child, and her Male Friend (That's me, Darling).
When I go out for my first cigarette break there is a woman in her 50s sitting in a wheelchair on the curb facing the entrance to the restaurant hoping that someone will distribute superfluous cash her way. I didn't bring my wallet for smoking so I hand her 2 cigarettes, one of which she starts smoking after asking me for a light.
On my next cigarette break, an affluent person asks me whether she can buy a cigarette from me. She pays $1 for 1 cigarette, which on my way back into the restaurant, I hand to the woman in the wheelchair. Easy come, Easy go.
Since I didn't bring a present to the birthday party (What to give a person that has everything already?), I move to pay for my friend's dinner, and then a cunning plan forms in my devious mind,
I decide to pay the entire bill of the party of 5.
When Female Friend makes moves to pay me back, I say "Give some of what you think you owe me to a homeless person on the street", indicating the outside of the restaurant with a swipe of my chin.
I tell the same to the Partner, after he asks "You are paying the ENTIRE bill?'
I'm hoping that one of Partner and Female Friend will take the opportunity to hand out some of their free money to the woman sitting at the curb. What I have in mind is somewhere between an educational experience for the potential donors and a desperate attempt to prove my opinion of Vancouverites to be incorrect. I simply DO NOT want to believe that the entire population of Vancouver is cold-hearted and self-absorbed.
I am the last to leave the restaurant, having to collect my bike seat etc, but even viewing the other members of the party from behind I recognize the body language of people that walk by a beggar and pretend not to see them.
|If you can find images on Google, it is wide-spread !|
And what do we call that kind of behaviour?
The other members of the dinner party have walked by the woman in the wheel chair without even looking at her, without noticing another human being in need. I see the pained hopeful look in the woman's eyes and hand her a $10 bill. Hell, I already wasted $30 on an experiment that was supposed to benefit this woman but that backfired spectacularly, as I had expected it, to be entirely honest.
What I gave to the woman in the wheelchair apparently was enough to make her day (she had 'earned' $1.50 in the hours before), because as I was releasing my bicycle from a nearby parking meter, I saw that she had left her post and was slowly wheeling towards me.
The first thing she said was that as of now she is doubting her own ability to estimate the charity of passers-by. I tell her not to distrust her gut-feeling because I'm a statistical outlier. After hearing yet another account of how the poor fare with the Canadian medical system (NO, she was not left to die in an emergency hallway for 36 hours, but having hernias operated on is apparently quite difficult in this country as a poor person, so George was not the only one encountering that issue), I bid her good bye and start cycle off contemplating what is bugging me so much right now.
It's not that I just bought two people dinner, who didn't live up to their side of the bargain. It is not that they ignored my expressed wish (You can't buy people's actions). It has something to do with realizing how screwed the poor in this city really are. And of course the pain that comes over me when I think about that George during his year of homelessness in this city was treated the same.
Another issue that troubles me greatly, is how easy it is for the human brain to categorize entire populations as something different, not entirely human. I repel in horror after thinking for a second about how many people will spend any amount on pet treats, special foods, manicure, peticure, etc. etc, but will feign lack of means when confronted with a less fortunate human being. And the only way they can do that is classifying them as something else. Try drug addicts or mentally unstable for the homeless. Try migrants or foreigners for refugees in Europe. There seems to be no limit on how the human brain can segregate other people in order to be able to violently ignore them.
But it's also important to feel sorry for the people that commit this acts of unkindness. Ever thought that those who classify themselves as 'better' than the homeless have nothing else in their lives to be proud of? And we won't even go into any deeper discussion of Karma ;-)