In recent times I’ve been more consciously aware of those fleeting moments where my brain passes instant judgement on something in the world around me. It keeps catching me quite unawares as my brain comes up with things the rest of my consciousness doesn’t like.
I have various principles I’d like to live my life by. They include things like compassion, respect, fairness and justice, caring for our planet and all that’s on it.
Yet my traitorous brain seems to embrace every
ism that exists. Instead of riding on the broad and inclusive high ground of enlightenment it slips into every available narrow rut of stereotype, exclusion and entitlement.
Recently, for example, I stopped my car at a busy Wellington intersection. As I waited for the rights to change a young man lurched along the footpath beside me. He was barefoot and casually dressed. He was gesticulating and talking loudly to himself or perhaps anyone within earshot. He had the appearance of being drunk or high or perhaps he had severe mental or physical health issues, or perhaps a combination of those things.
As he approached the busy crossroad he barely stopped himself from lurching right in front of a car by grabbing the post the traffic lights were supported by. After steadying a momentum swing, he hovered there a moment until there was a slight lull in the traffic then plunged across the road to the other side.
The lights changed and I drove on.
But in that moment of seeing him my unconscious brain formed a thought:
People like him shouldn’t be on our streets.
Immediately though my thinking brain responded with horror at the suggestion that somehow I was part of a social group that owns the streets. That what I would do for this person who clearly needed help and support would be to cast him out, to exclude him.
As I drove I pondered the matter. That fellow is part of our community. He owns the streets as much as any other of us. He is one of
us, not one of
He also clearly needs help and support. As a community we should be looking after him, not excluding or punishing him.
It’s a daily disappointment to me that the government (whichever one) spends our taxpayer dollars on things that aren’t a practical application of caring and compassion. Instead they foster division and derision. City Councils do the same, with downright mean acts such as adding armrests to public benches so no-one can lie down and sleep on them.
Many of our governments have spent energy blaming the very people who need help for being in their predicament. Some introduce measures that employ lawyers and accountants to ensure that people who need help don’t
waste our collective funds, rather than giving out the money where it’s needed and risking the odd mis-spend.
Still, for my part, what I can do is try to catch my brain in its attempts to divide me from ‘others’ and try to pull it back on track.
As a community, society, country, planet, we’re all in this together. People will always be diverse. Some need more help than others at certain times. Some will give more (time, energy, money, caring) than they should, while others will take more than they should. But then, none of us is perfect.
Underneath, though, we’re all the same. I’m happy that my conscious brain picks up on my inner prejudices but what I’d really like would be for those prejudices to disappear altogether.