Ignoring Horizontal Human Beings

By | May 8, 2021 | 0 Comments

Some time ago I was driving to work along a major downtown street. I passed a group of middle school students walking to school. In front of them was a man lying on the sidewalk. He was not lying in a doorway, like most homeless people. Nor was he lying against the wall of a building, like some homeless people. He was lying obliquely across the sidewalk, as though he had fallen, not lain down. I was caught in heavy traffic, and I told myself that was why I didn’t stop. I hope this was true.

Without stooping or kneeling and checking him, there was no way to tell if he was sleeping, passed out drunk, drugged, ill, injured, comatose, dying, or dead. But the kids just stepped over or around him and continued on their way, talking cheerfully.

Only one boy hesitated, turned around  and looked at the prostrate human being for a moment, and then went on his way. Perhaps his parents (or parent) was religious or in health care. Perhaps that explains his brief, ineffective effort at concern. But alone among his schoolmates, at least he showed some concern. The rest walked by, not slowing their pace, as though they were passing a piece of garbage on the sidewalk.

Now do you understand why I believe the worst effect of massive homelessness is not on the homeless themselves, unfortunate though they are? The worst effect is on the rest of us, especially the young. They are growing up learning to ignore horizontal fellow humans, passing by without a thought of trying to help, or even discovering if the man or woman is alive or dead.

Even if this does not appeal to your sense of altruism and humanity, what about purely selfish considerations? What if you trip and fall, and have trouble getting up, as my wife recently did. Would you want passersby to ignore you, as they did my wife? And what if you were mugged and lying unconscious, or felled by a stroke or heart attack? Would you want people to stop, ask if you needed help, or call 911?

Well, if you do want that, why are you teaching the next generation to be apathetic, self-centered, unhelpful jerks? Because that is exactly what you are teaching kids to be, by teaching them to do as you are doing – ignoring the homeless, even when they are horizontal. File under K for Karma.

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