It’s difficult to say when I first noticed the missing pieces. Some part of me feels like I’ve always been aware, and the level of awareness has simply grown to the point I can no longer ignore it.
Another part of me wonders if I ever knew anything, if I ever even noticed the struggles of another person with any kind of clarity before this point in my life — and if I didn’t see the pain, how many opportunities did miss to help, comfort, or just stand as a witness to another person reality?
Something is missing from the human experience. There are empty rooms in the hearts of millions, rooms that were once filled with the most powerful elixirs of life; Love. Compassion. Empathy. Kindness.
The capacity for understanding another's circumstances without judgment and opinion has shrunk dramatically. The level of tolerance for discomfort, horror, pain, and, yes - I’ll say it - violence, has grown to the point that murders of actual, real, human beings are broadcast across the world on a near-daily basis, and nobody (and by “nobody,” I mean a large swath of the global population) is batting an eye.
This is what we have come to know. This is what life, nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st Century, looks like. Is it race? Is it politics? Is it the economic ruin? Is it everything and nothing and rolled into one?
I don’t have the answer. At least not an answer borne of anything other than my personal experience. In my opinion, it’s all of it. It’s systemic racism. It’s the astounding hypocrisy by leadership. It is all of the lies and mistruths and misrepresentations we’ve been fed since the day we could comprehend what is happening around us. It is the evaporation of those precious, magical qualities that keep us from the best versions of ourselves.
December 26th, 2020, Aurora City Mayor, Mike Coffman, took to the streets incognito to “uncover the problems of homelessness within the community.” He spent 3 nights on the streets and within tent encampments and 4 nights at various shelters across Aurora and Denver, Colorado.
The opinions he formed during the time he spent being “homeless” were met with vehement rebuttal from Homeless Advocates and grassroots organizations not just in Colorado but across the country. There was a lot of victim-blaming from the Mayor. Lots of comments about how these people don’t want to change and that providing more resources will only continue to allow the homeless to flourish. He said most of the people he encountered were not suffering from mental illness and simply refused to live by society's standards. He talked about homeless people just needing to get sober and that developing their work skills would allow them to find stable housing.
Overall, Coffman's feelings can be summed up in one quote; “Being compassionate means not enabling [this] behavior to continue.”
Mike Coffman is very wrong. Compassion isn’t about enabling or not enabling someone; it is about having concern for and about their suffering.
Compassion means looking at someone and seeing their entire timeline. It means developing sympathetic pity towards the misfortune of another human being. It means you continue to provide resources that actually help, not take them away. It means you meet someone where they are in the moment, not where you think they should be.
And it’s not just about homeless people. It’s about the children we put through foster care. It’s about the side-eyed looks we give to those who aren’t quite “right.” It’s about the shootings of people of color. It's about thinking that anyone — any human being — is less than because of the circumstances they have endured.
It’s about assuming mental illness looks like wearing a diaper on your head and screaming John Lennon lyrics at the top of your lungs on the 405 freeway.
It’s about forgetting that the human psyche is much more fragile than we think it is.
It’s about assuming the human heart can take hit after hit, abuse after abuse; Inferring that neglect, harsh circumstances, hateful words, empty bellies, and desperation are givens for some — and that those that are unfortunate in these ways somehow deserve to be treated with contempt instead of love.
Every day, I look around me and see broken individuals. At the grocery store. On the street corner. On the news. In the stories I read. I see a world that has become mean and disparaging. I‘m confronted with circumstances I know I couldn’t survive, and I wonder what the person who does survive them had to give up just to make it another day.
I won’t deny that there are good, even great, people out there. Caring, loving, selfless people who spread light and joy throughout their families, communities, and the world at large — and you often see these people at the center of feel-good news stories or in uplifting profile pieces. These people win accolades and awards for their good deeds. They are commended by government leadership and presented as an example of what it means to be an upstanding citizen.
And this breaks my heart. Because instead of being inundated with all the awful aspects of humanity, with only an occasional glimpse into the good that is out there, it should be the opposite.
News cycles should be full of tales of one human being helping out another human being. Compassion for self and others should be taught in every school. We should be touting Empathy instead of weapons. We should be better. We should be more evolved. We should care about each other and, if we say we don’t want to, shouldn’t have to, we will soon be forced to face the terrifying impact of what happens when we continue to treat people like problems to be solved rather than souls in need of love.
I’m not saying it isn’t difficult. I’m not saying that the homeless man who reeks of urine and is clearly inebriated shouldn’t be approached with caution — but should he strike out, it should be met with understanding and pity instead of rage and indignation. For how many nights have you slept in the freezing cold — lonely, broken, and without hope for tomorrow? You might be angry and untrusting of kind deeds too. You might turn to drugs to alleviate the feeling you failed on the greatest level too.
You, too, might turn your back on “normal society” in favor of those who understand your plight, your pain, who will share food and shelter with you, who will not judge you.
We must remember that each of us started out the same; tiny, newborn beings with no preconceived notions of what living life would look like or become. We must remember that we were brought into this world for many reasons, under endless sets of circumstances, with our hearts full of love and our souls firmly intact.
We must remember that a broken person is not necessarily broken beyond repair and that the very simple yet powerful potion mixed of love, kindness, empathy, and compassion can heal.
Maybe not right away, maybe not all at once, but, eventually, it can. It will. It must.
We have to find these pieces and begin dropping them back into our lives and the lives of those around us. It is the only way the Human Experience will survive.