A friend and I were walking down the street and saw a woman sitting on a doorstep, crying her eyes out. “Don’t get involved,” said my friend, picking up the pace. A few steps further, I let my friend go on without me. I felt I had to turn back, or I could not have lived with myself.
The woman on the doorstep was drunk. She said she was a recovering alcoholic, and had been sober for fifteen years – until today. Today, however, her sister (and only relative) had died trying to give birth to a baby. The woman sobbed, and I saw three or four empty beer cans on the pavement, next to her. Nothing I could say or do would ever make a difference or alleviate her truly harrowing sense of loss. She had spent everything she had on alcohol and, since she declined my offer of money, I bought a couple of ready-to-microwave meals from the corner shop, and started walking her home. On the next street, we bumped into a neighbour of hers who gently took her by the arm, and led her the rest of the way.
I did not try and help that woman for any noble reasons. I just realised that if I did not, then I could not have looked at myself in the mirror again. Selfish, really, if you think of it. As for getting involved, it was not about getting involved. I was involved by the very fact that I saw that woman sitting there, crying her heart out.
Time and again, I hear people say, “I don’t want to get involved” or “I’m not taking sides”. Why this state of non-committed neutrality? Are they not a part of this world? Are they extra-terrestrials?
I can sense the usual hoard of devil’s advocates falling over one-another with objections and spouting “things aren’t always black and white” platitudes. Yes. There are times when it is not wise or safe to get involved in a situation. The list of examples is too long to write out. However, it is also true that, in many cases, this “not getting involved” is not so much a sign of dignity but of fear. Actually, “fear” is too politically correct, nowadays. Let us just call it what it really is – cowardice.
We live in a society in which, we are striving to be so tolerant of differences, in which we are so terrified of uttering any opinion that might come across as judgemental, that I sometimes wonder if we have lost track of what is Right and Wrong.
My favourite Shakespearean quotation is by Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” I believe that to be true to a great extent. Even so, there are areas, off-limits, where the absolutes of Right and Wrong do apply. I feel that it is wrong willfully to harm another human being, or an animal, or nature. That does not mean that the perpetrator should not be understood or forgiven, but that the act per se is unquestionably wrong.
I also believe that you should be true to yourself, and that that involves standing up for what you believe is right. Every time you look away, pretending something does not concern you, you lose a piece of your humanity. If circumstances are such that all you can do is look away then, at least, be truthful to yourself by admitting that that is what you are doing.
If your colleague is being bullied by the boss, or one of your friends has wronged another, and you take the attitude that you “don’t want to get involved”, then I can only hope that you may, someday, come to understand how it feels to be vulnerable, isolated and with nobody to back you.
Once again, I need to clarify this. We are all humans, flawed, insecure, etc. I am not advocating throwing yourself headlong into a destructive situation, at genuine peril to yourself. Nor am I suggesting that you put your job on the line for the sake of a colleague. However, there are ways of giving support without placing yourself at risk. If you cannot or will not jeopardise your position publicly then, at least, you can do so privately. “I’m sorry, I can’t support you openly but I am on your side” will often be like a drop of water on parched land to a person who feels wronged. A small act of kindness that will tell him or her that he or she is not completely alone.
Hundreds of idealistic undergraduates will quote John Donne’s lines, “No man is an island…”
Of course you’re involved. Or are you a day tripper in this life? I guess what it comes down to, is how you want to feel about yourself when you look in the mirror.
© Scribe Doll