Who cares about dead junkies?
I try to get out for a quick walk at lunch time every day. It's good to get away from the desk for a while, stretch your legs and clear your head.
On my usual walking route there is some sort of addict recovery/support center. I'm not exactly sure what they do, but their presence on this particular street means there are usually small groups of what you might call 'scaldies' hanging around outside. ('Scaldies' is Dublin slang, I'm sure every city has their own equivalent).
The men are often dressed in tracksuits, the women covered in cheap, gold colored jewellery. They are generally loud and obnoxious, shouting at each other despite being close enough to have a normal conversation.
Their accents are thick and voices husky from excessive smoking. Attempting to guess any one of their ages would be an exercise in futility. Continued abuse of drugs and alcohol has wreaked havoc on their hair, teeth and skin. They do not look healthy.
If you watch any pedestrian as they pass by one these groups, it’s clear to see that they feel momentarily uncomfortable. There is a social chasm here. They are like the ‘unclean’ lepers of old. An invisible bubble forms around them, a barrier that people circumnavigate at what appears to be a set radius. The louder and more obnoxious the group is the larger that radius.
Anyway, back to my lunch time walk. On this particular day I walked by a stoop that is usually populated with a few of these guys. Today, however, there were just two women.
One of them was passed out on the steps. The other was standing over her with a cigarette dangling from her lip and a can of coke in her left hand (Taste the Feeling!). The conscious woman was shouting and pulling at her unconscious friend, seemingly more annoyed than worried.
The woman on the steps looked dead. Possibly an overdose... I don't know I've never seen a live action overdose before so my knowledge of what it looks like is based entirely on Pulp Fiction. She could have simply been enjoying a pleasant heroin induced nap.
Either way I wasn't about to stop and find out. It didn't really matter to me one way or another.
I realized as I passed the stoop that I didn't care about this human being at all. In fact I was angry at her for the discomfort I felt as I walked by. For the sight she was presenting to any children that might walk by. For the fact that she is likely a significant beneficiary of the tax money of every hard working person in the country, despite not contributing herself.
I didn't care if she was dead and didn't care to stop and find out if I could help in some way.
If it had been an dog, hell even a Pigeon, in such a situation I would have likely stopped. Not this woman though, I didn't entertain the thought for even a second.
This was her problem, her mess. My taxes have given her enough already and will pay her hospital bill if she requires treatment now.
The more extreme among us might even go as far as to say that if she did overdose it would be no great loss to society. That it would be some tax payer money put to better use.
This all sounds pretty harsh. It's supposed to. It's important, I think, to explore the feelings that when talked about aloud make us look like callous assholes.
I don't know you, and it's entirely possible that you're a saint. It's possible that you see and treat all people equally, with love and compassion. But I'd wager that most people would not want to share their immediate space it one of the people that I described above.
They make us uneasy.
They are the 'dregs' of society. The ones that aren't really engaged in the system. The ones with nothing to lose.
I think this is why I feel unease and resentment when confronted by the sight I faced on that lunch time walk. Socially they do a lot of taking and very little giving, but it's more than that. They are exempt from consequence.
If I rob someone, get caught selling drugs, cause a commotion on public streets I face serious consequences. I could end up in jail, lose my job, lose family and friends.
I've worked hard my whole live to get the education and job that I currently hold. I've lived within the bounds set by society. I've got it all to lose.
They've got nothing, which means they get away with everything.
The title of this post was not meant to be callous for the sake of it. It was meant to be an honest question. Who are the people that care for those that seem to seek our disgust and contempt? The ones that really test the limits of compassion.
I'd love to know how they do it. How can you put all of this contempt aside as see this person as a person. As a being with intrinsic value.
One thing I always try to do is picture them as a baby. You can't hate a baby. A baby is just a lump of clay that gets molded by society. Sure it has some innate properties that affect the molding process, but in the early days those properties don't account for much. The clay needs a lot of work before it can start shaping itself, and society is a significant contributor.
So this is where I begin to struggle. Is the woman I saw on the steps a lost cause? Should we discard a generation as 'unhelpable' and begin to focus in earnest on the future? On children?
I don't know.
But one thing is for sure, if there is a loud obnoxious scaldy on the bus or the street making people feel uncomfortable, hard working people that have something to lose, I'm going to have a hard time summoning any compassion. But I might try giving them a backstory and see if I can't manifest a little understanding instead of outright contempt.