No Man is an Island: Why You Should Be Neither Selfish nor Unkind
If you fell sick on the street today, what are the chances that someone would help you? From some of the things I’ve witnessed in recent months, I’m not too confident that I wouldn’t be left lying on cold Toronto pavement as people stepped over me. The days of Good Samaritans seems to be drawing to a disheartening end. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this society’s new favourite words are “me,” “my,” “mine” and “I”. Many of us think of ourselves as individuals capable of being perfectly independent of everyone else. What a grand delusion.
Last week I was sitting on a full bus. A man in a wheelchair – not the motorized kind, but the ones you have to propel by hand – was getting off at a major intersection. As the driver lowered the ramp and the man rolled off, the light turned red. Not proud to say it, but I groaned, as I was in a hurry. From my seat in the back of the bus, I watched the man, slouching down in the chair, wearing a dirty motor jacket, open to show his large doughy belly, and a dingy baseball cap pulled down over his greasy long hair, back his wheelchair toward the turning lane. In disbelief, I watched helplessly as the man slowly rolled the chair off the curb, and toppled out on to the pavement. But it wasn’t just the sight of his large body lying in the street with the wheelchair on top of him that disturbed me; it was my clear view of other people walking by him lying there with his limbs sprawled, people running by him to get on the bus. It was nearly a full minute before a passer-by asked him if he was ok. And it took a man in scrubs, nearly another minute later, to help the man from the ground and back into his chair.
Now, I perfectly understand why some may not have wanted to physically help the man. We know enough stories of people being injured trying to help others. There was no way of knowing whether this man was mentally stable, or under the influence of substances, after all, he did back his wheelchair into the street. But that still begs the question, why didn’t the first passer-by dial 911, or simply say, “Sir, are you alright?”
Perhaps they had the same attitude as the guy sitting behind me who, upon seeing the man fall, said, “The only time anyone will ever have to help me is when I’m in my grave.” It took every ounce of my will power to keep myself from ripping his head off. He, and many others are under the misguided impression that if they don’t need help themselves, they shouldn’t help others. Worse, he actually thinks he’s capable of making it through this life without ever needing to accept help or an act of kindness from anyone. It seems, aside from being selfish, we also think we’re invincible. But here’s the thing: no one ever wakes up in the morning and decides to be sick or homeless. Do you really think you can predict when Parkinson’s Disease will cause your hands to start shaking, or when fibromyalgia will rob you of your mobility, or when you’ll lose your job, family and house?
We need to get away from the idea that we are invincible forces existing in isolated universes, capable of existing without ever depending on the help of another human being. Not only is it stupidly selfish, but it’s quite frankly impossible. As human beings, we will all, at some point in our lives, find ourselves in need of help, and for that reason, if no other, we should be willing to lend a helping hand to another individual. Someday you might find yourself on the receiving end of that helping hand.