Compassion is the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Seems simple, right?
So many issues are plaguing us at a worldwide level as a nation and in our own backyard, including terror attacks, refugee crises and countless humans who are not able to get proper shelter or nutrition. You’d think people would work together to find solutions to help the oppressed, not become the oppressors.
I recently worked with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the northern region of India, helping produce a documentary specifically on mental health and community awareness around this issue. Residing mostly in the northern state Uttarakhand, I split my time between two old British army hill station towns, Dehradun and Mussoorie. The non-profit worked with hospitals and community members throughout India—their work ranges from general health care to issues as heartbreaking as child sex trafficking.
On the issue of mental health, there are hurdles a person faces when trying to deal with the most privatized and corrupt health care system in the world. People with their backs up against a wall ultimately turn to sham “religious healers” and back phony, unlicensed doctors for bogus therapy at a detrimental expense to oneself by usually putting one’s family in debt for, sometimes, decades.
Some ideas and concepts in India are 50 years ahead of ours, but some ways of life lack in modern progression. As traces of lead found in schools may have shocked the community of Flint, Michigan and people around the United States, leaded and toxic water is a part of daily existence in most rural areas of India. Long-term exposure to chemicals and pollutants from unregulated factories, trash burning and malnutrition are caused by an elementary understanding of cause-and-effect when it comes to looking ahead for future generations in regards to issues such as sustainability and pollution.
That trend of non-conscious thinking is detrimental to oneself, one’s community and, ultimately, the world. In the west, we have an idea that you can go to the doctor, get a pink slip, pop some meds and just carry on—not dealing with other underlying issues. For most of us, as busy as we are, this seems like a practical and convenient solution to what plagues us: our problems, our time, our security and our livelihood. That’s all fine if we are “okay” as humans, just blocking out the suffering of others, as long as it doesn’t hit home.
There are a number of things to consider when dealing with this topic including human rights, human privilege and the vicious cycle that prevails when we just live life with our heads down, liking and sharing a few trending posts, justifying in our heads that we are actually doing something positive for the world. We have been able to isolate our existence to a social media feed that most of the affected will never see, probably never hear of nor are likely to actually care about.
We have politicians at every level showing the grossest level of bigotry and outright racist ideologies, and it seems as a nation and as a community we have just come to somehow accept these are suitable ways of thinking. Close the borders, cut the social programs, privatize the care of health. In no way do I think with a snap of the fingers we can have a solution to many of our problems, but something must give.
Most people who land in these situations have no say in the matter, but I imagine if you are privileged enough to have the time to read this, you do have the capability to act, listen and support. Help doesn’t have to cost anything, and if it does, as a collective, it wouldn’t add up to much at a personal level. We pass by people on the streets, near our homes, our schools and our hangout spots, all of whom we ignore on our daily paths. We have appointments, dinner dates, business meetings and a plethora of other things that consume our daily schedules. Our service to each other gets lost in the sauce, as one might say.
We saw it casually come around during the recent holiday season—we all had choices to make regarding our plans, our intent and how we are going to carry ourselves for those couple short months. Most likely, you chose to go the commercial route, waiting in line for a TV deal on Black Friday, or maybe went the not-so-extreme route by trying to pick out perfect, meaningless gifts for the few in our immediate circles because you felt you had to. I know most of what I thought I needed at some point was unnecessary at best—mostly overvalued and overrated.
I, myself, am going to make a conscious effort to help lift up my fellow man regardless if it’s the trending thing to do. No profile picture overlay, no hash-tag—just real action with positive intent. Whether it is by engaging in a simple conversation, a small gesture, volunteering—whatever it may be—I want to be outside of myself, my comfort zone and my privilege.
“We have a choice to make: We can sit and watch our communities crumble one at a time, or we can choose to stand together as a human race, as a unit—as the similar genome that we all are.”
Most of these problems at a global scale seem so overwhelming that of course it is easy to pass as insurmountable, and can be quick and painless to turn the other cheek. All I ask is that we make eye contact with those we normally wouldn’t, and see yourself, your struggle, in the humans around you.
Compassion only occurs if we try. It doesn’t magically appear if we wish for it—it comes with effort, attention and empathy. Empathy is a human response that we are all capable of. There is no longer time for the idea of “it isn’t my problem.” It is—these struggles around us come to affect our lives in some way, shape or form. We have a choice to make: We can sit and watch our communities crumble one at a time, or we can choose to stand together as a human race, as a unit—as the similar genome that we all are.