The modern day holocaust: Apathy

Only when we can see past the weeds can we see the blossom.

A found piece from over 14 years ago, a post 911 anniversary had played in full on every channel, this was written following the continued outcry of that particular dreadful event.

We are living in a holocaust of apathy.  As we once more remember the holocaust of the Second World War.  I’m grasped by thoughts that millions of Jewish people herded into the Ghetto’s and then transported to concentration camps.  We hear sayings like “NEVER AGAIN” and we hope that this can never again happen.  However, as I look around my immediate world I see a new holocaust growing.  A huge sense of apathy has grown in our society.  At a recent holocaust awareness seminar I attended.  Somebody posed the question, “would we notice if people, Asians, kosovans, refugees started to disappear, shops closed up, would anyone notice?  Would they say anything?  Would they bother???”  We like to say NO!  Because we like to think NEVER AGAIN!  Yet it is happening in a very real way.  In our cities, littered amongst the doorways of London, the hostels of the country, the soup kitchens throughout are the broken and the dispossessed.  The homeless of our country.  Addled by ill health, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues and criminality.  Modern day Jews, ignored and ridiculed by society.  Our blindness and attitude of looking the other way only perpetuates this cycle of detriment.  These people, these homeless that are walked by and become invisible to us are the parents and children of people.  They are the missing, the un-noticed.  And yet we can look the other way.  Our apathy grows in so many ways.  By our judgmental attitudes and our indifference and tolerance to these sights.

Three years ago, I attended a seminar in the capital.  I had never stayed in London and seen its sights.  As we walked around the west end, I was struck by the doorways upon doorways of people huddled up in cardboard boxes and blankets.  Human beings, being at their most human.  It shocked me, as a man who has experienced homelessness; I was shocked to see this terrible and pitiful sight.  And I, as many others walked past.  I watched others, how they walked.  All dressed up and heading to a bar, theatre or restaurant.  Oblivious to this sight.  Tempered by the repeat performance night after night.  NEVER AGAIN!  We said, and yet this happens, today in 2006!  How have we not learned?  After all the lessons that humanity has taught us about looking the other way, about being afraid not to stand up to the bully in the schoolyard, about keeping quiet and not getting involved.  Must we always think, “It’s not for me to get involved!” or “Someone else will fix it!”?  Or “I haven’t got the time!”  When does our apathy end?  When it happens to our son?  Daughter, Brother, Father!  When it happens to us?  Aren’t we all sons, daughter, and brother’s fathers of each other in this human race!  Why do we say NEVER AGAIN when what we really mean is we haven’t got the time.  Were so busy in this fast food society.  We have too much to do to get involved in these desperate peoples lives and their problems.  To busy to get involved in the whys and how’s they got their.  Yet!  On a Monday morning, myself included, we will sit down in front of the television and get involved in peoples real life dramas when there presented by Trisha or Jeremy Kyle.  We’ll sit there and um and arr at how awful there lives are.  Engrossed in these family dynamics, yet we walk the street and turn a blinkered blind eye to the pain of someone’s life whose existence is reduced to a couple of carrier bags in a shop doorway.

NEVER AGAIN!  I keep coming back to this comment that we spew out when we think of the terrible degrading atrocities that were committed in the Second World War.  Mankind’s monstrosity against mankind.  Yet are we not committing a similar monstrosity when we look the other way?  When we turn away from the man begging for money, for food, for help.  Would we turn away from an animal in the same obvious distress?

Incidentally, we don’t, we don’t turn away from that.  There are over 1,500 shelters for animals that have suffered at the hands of cruelty.  So why are there people, human beings just like you and me sleeping on the streets of our capital, and our major cities???

Aren’t we all guilty of this apathy, this willingness to look the other way, pretend it doesn’t exist; it’s not my problem?  NEVER AGAIN!  We would gladly take in an animal, dog or cat into our homes that was stray on the streets, yet could we say that we would do the same for another human being?

As I look around me, and the world in which I live.  I see this common thread.  We are divorced from our fellow man.  A relationship that is broken and dis-jointed.  Through our busyness in life we have forgotten fundamental human attitudes.  To reach out to someone in time of need.

What do we fear losing if we take the homeless person into our house?  Our time?  An element created by man that tells us where to go and to be at certain places at certain times.  Or do we fear being robbed, having those priceless trinkets that cost us money which we have worked for taken from us… yet another question is what could be gained from facing this apathetic attitude.  Do we really lend our hand to our common man?  Do we stretch out the hand of friendship far enough to pull a human being out of the mire long enough for them to get a breath?  Today, right now I have a man in my house, an old friend desperate to detox from drugs.  Tonight he is alone in my house and I am fully aware of this blind trust I have put in him, and I am aware that this trust could be thrown back in my face.  This is not a massive act of kindness, it is just an act, just something that I as a human being can do for another, in this particular scenario, offering him a roof over his head, miles away from the temptations that may destroy him is all I can do.  It is a small act of trust.  It costs me little more than a little concern.  Yet this has raised questions of my own attitude towards people.  This apathy of looking the other way, and here I am faced with this situation.  Open my house yet I sleep with my wallet and change?  Where is my faith?  My belief?  Am I so attached to my worldly things that I fear losing these petty constraints?  Would it really impact upon my life?  Have I become so conditioned by society’s cynicism that I forget to see the hopelessness and desperation in another’s eyes?  Are my judgements of others so severe?  This fear of the things we don’t know blocks us from a part of ourselves that as humans we need to embrace.  Humanity, community, and compassion… this is not something that just touches us when we see travesties in African countries and images of children in squalor on television, this is something we do when we reach out our hands to another human being whoever they may be and say “what can I do?”  “How can I help?”  These simple acts of humanity are what can bring us back in communion with ourselves as human beings.  Regardless of whether you believe in Allah or Krishna or Buddha or God… who cares what the colour of your skin is or what car you drive.  Aren’t we all here on this same planet breathing this same air and drinking the same water and eating the same kind of foods?  What should we care if you bow before an empty cross or a crucified cross.  Whether you kneel facing Mecca or sit in meditation.  What does it matter that you don’t speak the same words as I do?  If you look into my face and I into yours, do I not see what it is that is lacking in your life?  What words can express those?  None!  Only an act of humanity, a handshake, a smile, a hug.  We have the capacity to show such gentleness to a stray cat we have never seen before, where is that gentleness to the stranger at the bus stop or across the street?  All it takes is a little effort; it can take as little time as a thought…  “I’m gonna’ smile at that person!”  How simple is that?  Just a moment of understanding and compassion… it needn’t impact on our whole day.  Just a moment to consider someone outside of the immediate us, then that person, forever becomes a part of our existence, whether we ever see him or her again.  The recognition of them causes them to become part of our wider experience.

It only takes a small change in our thinking.  Looking at a different perspective.  This world we live in is only on loan, it’s a rented room for the duration of our stay here.  And like a room if we look after it, keep it clean and healthy it will keep us well.  So our impact upon the room we live in, this world, this life should reflect the same.  So short a time we have to leave our mark, and we can leave it the smallest of ways.  It just takes this change in our thinking.  Looking at the world and treating it in a different way.  Without negativity, without contempt and hate fuelling us.  This world of people, inhabited by thinking breathing living life.  All there for us to learn and grow from.

Sincerely yours

A Thirsk Counsellor

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