We put up our walls and tune our televisions to “Reality TV” to escape the reality of our depravity.
Since when has caring about other people been a character trait to belittle and devalue? Since we’ve been told they’re freeloaders. Takers. Usurpers. Useless. Undesirable. Worthless. There are a host of names we call people who need help. We lump them in with the very few people abusing the system. It makes us feel better about their lot in life. Belittling them makes us feel better about how much we have and how much they do not. We dehumanize the most vulnerable to make us less likely to feel pity or remorse for the way in which we look past them on our way to get another Pumpkin Spice Latte.
Not long ago I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas for the first time. I saw the fountains, the lights, the splendor and magnificence of the architecture and man’s triumph over Mother Nature. I witnessed people by the thousands gambling away their money and drinking away their sorrows. I watched in horror as the wealthy carrying their Michael Kors shopping bags stepped over seemingly near dead homeless people. I saw indoor canals full of water while people in California struggle through a drought. While many look upon Vegas with starry eyed wonder, I felt horrible for my inability to reconcile the wealth and staggering poverty both on display in equal amounts. I feel worse for having done nothing to help.
My trip to Vegas touched me deeply. I live in relatively rural areas of the country where poverty abounds but homelessness is rare and hidden. Our culture, the American Way, tells us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Get in the game or get out of the way. It has always been about being successful in life on our own, without recognition that everyone needs help along the way. I think that may be where things went wrong for us. We began to look upon asking for help as shameful, internalizing that feeling and realizing increased pressure and stress in our drive to achieve the American Dream.
Perhaps that’s why we have such deeply entrenched feelings of pride and scorn. We’re proud of ourselves and those who achieve materialistic success. We idolize and emulate them. Whole industries have sprung up around the idea of coaching to success. Conversely, we scorn everyone who cannot succeed. We deride them as losers and lazy. If they just tried harder or dedicated themselves more they’d manage too. We call them usurpers. Leeches. Criminals. Takers. Anchors.
Those of us that recognize the need to care for and prop up those falling behind are often criticized as well. Bleeding Heart Liberal. Wimp. Sucker. Naive. Stupid. We’ve faced derision and criticism from very vocal people who often bully us into silence. We cannot afford to be silent any longer. It isn’t OK. Turning a blind eye to suffering is creating a society of isolationists. We are walling off and stripping away at a trait even animals manage: compassion.
Humanists and most religions preach peace and compassion at the very cores of their institutions. Somehow though, we look at the world through the prism of supremacy. When single moms need ChiP or public assistance they become Welfare Queens. When refugees and immigrants cross our borders seeking a better life away from war ravaged homes we call them illegal aliens or rapists and murderers. The mentally ill do not receive treatment. They are instead thrown in jail. Senior citizens that carried our society on their backs starve or are evicted from homes they have known most of their lives. We don’t care. They should have worked harder or planned better.
We have lost the concept of connection. Sharing has been replaced by greed and acquisition. We step over the homeless, walk away from the broken, and lock out the needy. When we allow children to drown while their families flee horrific violence, we have become broken as well. We put up our walls and tune our televisions to “Reality TV” to escape the reality of our depravity. All people are worthy of help, and there is no shame in asking or giving it. Don’t change the world: Change your little corner of it.
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