I had the great privilege of meeting with Fredrik Haren the other day for a “Find your inner theme” session. Highly recommended to anyone searching (and we know there are many of us!).
I told him this story which personified my inner theme – which until the session I was blinded to:
“I was once in Omonia in Athens. If anyone has been to Athens and Omonia you will know it’s a busy hub with crowds of people moving in all directions. It also has a particularly crowded Metro station underground. Among the hoards of people I was approached by a “man”. I put “man” in inverted commas because if you had seen him, you would be hard pressed to decide if he was human or beast.
He stood about a head shorter than me, obviously homeless as he seemed to be wearing everything he owned despite the heat. Long scraggly hair that had not seen a comb in probably decades and and a beard that seemed to double as a chest blanket in the colder months. He was dirty, smelled really REALLY bad, and didn’t walk so much as shuffled dragging his feet as if lifting them was a chore. His mere presence projected an unseen forcefield that made most people walk in a wide berth to avoid any uncomfortable proximity.
He shuffled towards me, extending a chubby, filth encrusted hand with long thick fingernails, and grunted – gruh!
I did not have time for this, even though my heart went out to him, so in order to avoid prolonged contact and meaningless excuse giving to get away, I simply said in english (since my english is not that bad), “Sorry, I don’t understand greek, goodbye”. Since surely this “bum” couldn’t speak another language and therefore I’d be on my way.
However, at this comment, his eyes lit up! What appeared to be a smile formed under the jungle of hair covering most of his mouth, and from that vicinity came out the voice that said “hey! you’re american!” Oh crap! he spoke english! Now I’m stuck!
What ensued was one of the most eye opening conversations I have ever had with another human being. This “inhuman” looking man was once a professor of philosophy at a prestigious US university. On sabbatical some 20 years before, he came to Greece to visit one of the birthplaces of philosophy. (Ironically, he did not speak greek and therefore the grunt!) Because of a combination of his studies and experiences while in Greece he said he became so disillusioned with society and how the world and people were evolving that he decided to no longer have any part of it. From then on he would live off the grid and abandon his previous life.
The conversation lasted about 45min until I really had to go. In that time I heard about his adventures, experiences, realisations, philosophy, family, friends, achievements and more.
How wrong I was about this person. How I had judged so readily and confidently based on what I initially saw. A bum is a bum, they don’t exist in my world. They fade into the environment till we barely notice them, if at all, and when we do, it’s because we’re hoping they won’t ask for something! They don’t matter….do they?”
That day I learned a lesson that has lasted my entire lifetime. I know you’re probably thinking “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, but that’s not it. I learned about my own superficiality, that I’m sure is shared by most people on this planet. We see hundreds, if not thousands of people every day – on the train, bus, roads, work, events, sidewalks, shopping malls etc. We see them, but we actually don’t. They are faceless figures blurring into the environment, white noise that just happens to be in our bubble of existence. Yet behind each of those faces, is a story: there’s a childhood, there’s a dream, there is pain and happiness, there is someone who gave birth to them, even a family that loves them, there is confusion, their is self worth, there are struggles and triumphs, there are desires and disappointment…there is a life…there is something priceless…there is a person, and that person could have been you or me. To billions of people, you and I ARE that faceless blur entering their bubble for but a brief moment in time.
If you knew someone’s story, would you treat them differently? If you knew someone was struggling with some agonising personal issue, would you measure your words to them? If your simple smile could stop someone from taking their life because a random person noticed they were alive today, would you not want to be the one giving that smile?
I have often seen the hashtag #lostfaithinhumanity. I believe this is a direct symptom of our inability to value another human life, regardless of colour, race, religion, social status, job, or circumstance. The dictionary definition of “value” is: “to consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial”. Isn’t that what every human on the planet craves on a cellular level? To be considered important and/or beneficial…ie: to be significant.
Those “blurs” have value. Those “blurs” have hearts, minds and faces. Those “blurs” are you and I. The moment we just see “blurs” and nothing else, then yes, we have lost OUR OWN personal humanity.