Submitted by: Adrian Badminton
My family and I went to a show in Cape Town some time ago, and as we left we were approached by a homeless person. Small in stature and appearing to not speak much English, she was asking for money.
Unfortunately, I know that I for one have been desensitised to some degree around issues of crime and homelessness. It becomes the norm, it becomes ‘every day’. I don’t mention this to be harsh or to say I don’t care. Of course I do. It’s just easy to fall into this trap of wearing blinkers to the ills that exist around us. A small shake of the head, a passing ‘not now’ or ‘no thank you’ are all gestures those on the streets must know all too well.
It’s just easy to fall into this trap of wearing blinkers to the ills that exist around us.
As a family we walked on until one family member (not me) took out his wallet and handed her a R200 note. Once she realised what it was, she squealed in delight, and with the shimmer of tears in her eyes she ran up to him and gave him a big hug. It’s hard to imagine this having happened to her up until that point.
I don’t have a picture of this interaction and I’m glad I don’t for I would have witnessed this poignant, powerful moment through a secondary medium, placing distance between myself and a moment of humanity that moved me. It’s not up to us to be prescriptive and say ‘spend it on this or that’, that is up to her, but to see her so happy was moving and powerful.
It is just easy to detach, it’s easy to see but not see, it’s easy to intellectually problematise but not emotionally recognise.
Therein lies the rub. There is an inherent power imbalance between the fortunate and the less so. I am aware of this intellectually through my studies in the social sciences but that ‘ivory tower’ has a habit of abstracting, of creating a concept to be studied instead of a human whose humanity is equal to mine. This is, at the very least, my critique and let me say I am in no way playing down the importance of social research, having spent ten years on that path. It is just easy to detach, it’s easy to see but not see, it’s easy to intellectually problematise but not emotionally recognise.
The power that we, as the privileged, wield in these interactions is enormous. Therein exists the power to ignore, like so many people before. The homeless are the people society is leaving behind, well-versed in the practice of ‘other-ing’, in being ignored, in being forgotten. Some try to reach out, to catch our attention. Some make weird hats, write signs on discarded cardboard and walk in between our cars. Therein also lies the power for small acts of kindness that enhance the social good, that break down the barriers between the ‘us’ and the ‘other’, that allow for the expression of our common humanity, that allow each other to be seen as more than ‘us’ and ‘them’.
I realised in a real way that it’s time to give back into the world around me.
The interaction I described above moved me. The intellectual and the emotional meld together in my mind, the realisation (again) of the importance of power and how it’s used to the process of social cohesion and upliftment. It’s up to us, the privileged, to not look down but to build up those less fortunate. I realised in a real way that it’s time to give back into the world around me. I’ll figure out the best way I can do that but, for now, let’s smile, for someone was able to have a night that was a little better than the one before.
Permission for use of photos by Karen Reich of Pinetown Street Ministry, who feed homeless people every day.
Edited By: Sally Bosch
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I’m a lover of words, of mentoring, networking, and helping my fellow man to ‘learn to fish’. Driven by a hunger to never stop learning, I have a passion for adventure and travel, sundowners and laughter with good friends. At the end of the day what brings great delight to my life are my young adult sons.
Quote: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Nelson Mandela