It sucks to be cold. It sucks to be hungry. It sucks being lonely. It sucks to be sick. A lot of harsh realities suck.
But you know what sucks more than anything else? Feeling like you’re a lesser human or even worse, like you’re not one at all.
I’ve come to realize over the past year nothing makes people feel better than making them feel special or appreciated; more or less, giving them dignity. At the same time, nothing makes people feel worse than depriving them the dignity that all human beings deserve.
Yet everyday we walk by those in need. They ask for help and we pretend not to hear. They stretch their hands out and we intentionally act like we don’t see it.
For a fleeting moment acting in such a way might make us feel better, but for far longer, the other side feels worse. By failing to acknowledge people, we deprive them the dignity that all humans deserve. We signal to them that they’re lower than us or not one us at all.
Maybe you haven’t lived on the streets, but you may have encountered a variation of this scenario. Have you ever been talking in a group of people and tried to chime in only to be completely ignored? It feels awful. Imagine having that done 50 times a day while you’re cold, starving, and lonely.
I have a proclivity to talk to strangers. When I do its never the small amount of change I may give them that inspires a cascade of tears down their face then subsequently mine. It’s the fact that someone actually stopped to talk to them. Because “no one has ever done that before.” Verbatim countless times.
It’s unrealistic to give to every person you see or to chat up every stranger you encounter who may have fallen on hard times. But it is realistic to treat everyone you encounter like a human being. I think we can all respond when spoken to and acknowledge someone else when they acknowledge us. A simple “sorry, I can’t” or “I can’t today” is a vast improvement from the subtle dagger thrust by a total lack of response.
I think it should be noted that this heart-wrenching epidemic is not limited to the people we encounter on the streets. To some degree it happens to waiters, cashiers, the people who hand out papers, and service professionals everyday. Yeah, they’re there to do a job. But guess what? They have feelings, families, and interests just like you do. So smile and ask them about themselves once in awhile instead of expecting clock-work subservience.
All humans crave dignity and are crushed when deprived of it. I think this is an important thing to keep in mind as we go about our lives.