Thursday, 18 July 2013

That Helpless Feeling

On this, Mandela’s birthday, I am faced with a moral dilemma. This is something I’ve been grappling with for quite some time now, but it seems that today’s 67 minutes initiative has encouraged me to address this issue head-on and find out whether other people feel the same way. Every day on my way home from work, I see familiar faces at my car window begging for money. And every day I feel like a terrible person for turning them away. It’s not I’m not sympathetic, but I also don’t believe in continually giving people cash handouts – especially after I’ve just slaved away at a desk for 10 hours to earn that money. 

But then a few weeks ago, the cold weather really set in and I noticed more and more homeless people sleeping on the pavement or in the shelter of shop doors, with hardly anything to keep them warm. I know that we can’t save everybody, but if we don’t try to help our fellow man then what does that make us? I used to have a teacher who would always say that you must put yourself in another person’s shoes before you judge them, and so I stopped to think what I would want if I were in that situation.

Naturally I, being obsessed with my stomach, immediately thought of a hot meal and this sparked an idea: I would make a big pot of soup, buy some polystyrene cups, and go and give soup to these poor, cold people. I was excited, I was all ready and rearing to go, and I was feeling really good about the situation. But then something began to rear its ugly head – some may call it pessimism, others realism – which made me stop and wonder whether this was really a good idea. Is a 24 year old girl driving up to a group of homeless people and handing out soup an act of compassion or stupidity?

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, he told me that it’s far too dangerous and that the best thing that I could do is to buy a whole load of blankets “and throw them out of your car window as you drive past”. I felt deflated: is this really what our world has come to? That we’re afraid to help people less fortunate then us because of the fear that we’ll become a newspaper headline on the next morning’s front page? Am I being completely naive about the world that I live in?

So here I sit, on the great Madiba’s 95th birthday, wondering what exactly I should do. It seems that today most people are happy to give 67 minutes of their time to help another, but what about all of the other minutes that pass us by? Do we not act selflessly because of fear, uncertainty, circumstance or just plain apathy? Should we continue to exist in a society based on fear, or should we try to change that and make it one based on love? What do you think?