I was pondering for a few days now whether to write a post about my recent experience and insights on inclusiveness and our role in society/community. When I was reading today’s Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper on The Power of Community, I decided to share it. There was a quote from Fred Rogers in that newsletter, that says, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then some see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Let’s be honest, we can find ourselves in both groups. You know in which you are more often, in the ‘it’s not my…’ group, or in the ‘being heroes’ group. And it’s not really about being heroes, just being human, to another human.
The power of community could be positive, strong, and empowering, but it could be also negative and disempowering. Depends on circumstances, and our needs, aspirations, and conditions. Both, power and community, are constantly moving and changing, and are the creation and reflection of us being in them, actively or passively. A community/society is a reflection of our awareness, and attitude towards ourselves, and each other. A community requires some sense of interconnections and interdependencies in front or behind our intentions, responses, and actions, and not mainly being focused on our micro world.
I was spending 10 days in a foreign city at the end of June. This city was presented to me a few years ago as a good example of a renewed sustainable city, with the implemented principle of inclusiveness. I was looking forward to revisiting it and having a few days off to explore the city and experience its atmosphere, people, culture, and energy. With many nice existing or newly built city districts, many places to eat and meet, a rich cultural scene, waterfront and everything being within walking distance, this city has still that nice and easy-to-live-in atmosphere. But there was something that didn’t feel quite right for me this time walking around and exploring the city. As I’ve been talking to my coach about it, I thought at first that I have just trouble seeing it all open, the reality, since there are so many homeless people of all ages, also families and teenagers, being out in public spaces, on streets, pavements, parks, trains, stations, and beside shops and restaurants. Which I had, because some were in really bad shape like being in this situation for a very long time, on drugs or something, either sleeping or talking to themselves, or yelling at others. And to see so much vomit on pavements during the day for a few days in a roll also didn’t work that well for me.
My coach invited me to try to keep my eyes open, to get in contact with some homeless people, and maybe give myself a chance for a different experience of them and the city. That afternoon, walking around the city, I saw about 55-60-year-old tiny women, sitting in her world, calm and quiet, in front of the shop, staring somewhere in the distance, with a sign beside her bucket for money “Just to get through this day.” When I kneeled to her and gave her some money, I asked her what happened to her that she was here, she needed some time to respond that she used to work in a care institution, and now she can’t afford her living expenses anymore. And while she was talking about her work she was smiling. Then I asked her if she had someone here, and her eyes got watered and tears started falling when she said “No…No one…I’m alone.” I said goodbye to her by saying “Take care of yourself.”, and she thanked me. Her teary eyes stayed in my mind, and I was still puzzled about it all.
We’ve connected for a moment, being just two women talking to each other, looking into each other’s eyes, although from different backgrounds, in different situations, and with different possibilities in life, that seemed to be irrelevant at that moment. Later that day I started to question myself if I’d done anything good approaching her, and called her from her numb world, so that she talked, smiled, and cried in those few minutes. Would it be better for her if I’d just given her some money and left her in her world, since her tomorrow will be probably similar to what was that day “Just to get through this day.”. Her numbness is probably her strategy to go through the day, not crying over a situation she’s in, but also not thinking and acting upon the possibility of changing it either, if it is “just to go through this day”. But then again, I don’t know any of that. I don’t know anything about her and her path, I’ve only seen her eyes and connected with her soul for a few minutes.
And if Susan doesn’t have anyone, or at least has a feeling of being alone, what and where is the community (for her) then?
I’ve talked to several people living in that city, during being there. The majority of them consider that being homeless in that city is by choice, and that there is no need to be homeless. They’ve explained the situation to me like, because marihuana is legal, people start using drugs, then lose jobs, and then they lose homes. Only one older lady said it’s becoming a real problem for a city, and that things got out of all proportions.
I was again struggling with my thinking and rethinking what is it that I was not getting here. Or is it just me being into the constant #bepowerfulandfree process and trying to live my words, and now noticing that all this ‘freedom’ might be too much freedom for me? Then I finally got what was really ‘that something bothering me’. I’ve realized that in so many ways this is not a display of freedom.
The first part of the equation, I have the freedom to live my way (my choice), and you have the freedom to live your way (my choice), it’s all good. I believe that. Then, being homeless is by choice – caused by you making choices that lead you to become/be homeless. So far still okay with it. I believe we have the power in us to make choices, and the responsibility and ownership for our choices. But then there is another part – something that happens if things go wrong, if things are not working as they’re supposed to, or if one as a part of society/community at some point just needs some help to get back on track. We, societies, and nations, create systems to support and tackle this kind of situation, at least we are supposed to do so in a civilized world. If, like in the case of this city, it is legal for people to camp on streets/pavements, and if marihuana is legal, then in only a few years there will be many homeless people with drug problems, and the majority see it as a logical consequence of these people’s choices, and not as a joint problem of their community, then it’s interesting to call it ‘by choice’. It’s also by choice to call it not my thing, to not deal with it, to not contribute to its solution, to not be aware that is affecting the community/this so ‘wonderful, relaxed and openminded city’. But the problem is still there, someone needs to take care of the problem, and for a visitor like me, it’s in the air, it’s present everywhere.
We all want the feeling of togetherness and connectedness but often take what is making them for granted. Like awareness, presence, care, connection, communication, seeing each other, taking a moment for each other, and doing something that is not mine or yours, but something which is somewhere I end and you begin, or it’s us/ours.
We often let it too long not to respond, to let it be, to not interfere, to not pay attention, or to hope that it will go away somehow. We think it’s not that urgent yet to respond. Susan wrote exactly how the majority is living day by day – just to get through this day. From the community perspective and our role in it, it is about this day, but it should be rather to live it, not just get through, and to live it with, not to feel that you are alone or that no one is there for you.