Tag: society

Just before Christmas, I met a young man named Mitch. He was living on the streets of Sydney. My girlfriend and I almost walked by him as many people do. Choosing not to see someone because it’s somehow uncomfortable. Acknowledging the homeless also acknowledges that you are doing nothing to help them. The city was filled with Christmas shoppers and the homeless are an unwanted obstacle in the path of those fulfilling their consumer missions. Ironic, people so obsessed with securing gifts for others because society says this is the time to give, yet ignoring those in obvious need right before them.

Something about Mitch made my girlfriend stop. Perhaps it was how young he looked. I was making pace for the station, ready for the trip home when I noticed she was no longer walking next to me. I took a few steps back to join them. We introduced ourselves and my girlfriend asked Mitch if he would mind sharing why he was living on the street. At 21, Mitch is frank and clear-eyed, drug-free apart from a smoking habit. I don’t think it’s fair to share the details of his life without his permission, suffice it to say his story was one of misfortune, abandonment and ill-treatment. He expressed a great desire not to be living on the street. He shared his plans to get an apartment of his own. He freely admitted life had put him in situations that had led to bad choices, choices that made it more difficult now to find work and housing. Waiting for social housing was likely to be long and fruitless, other services only solve immediate problems, like a charity food voucher for $15 that might get him a meal once a month.

As we spoke, standing to one side of a busy Martin Place, a woman walked right between us, completely disregarding our conversation and Mitch’s presence, her shopping bags nearly knocking us over. We all had to take a step back and collectively laughed in disbelief. But part of me wondered if I was any better than the bustling intruder. I’ve occasionally bought meals for people living in the streets, or given money, but like many of us, I’ve also found it easier sometimes to walk by. I like to think I’m a little better as a human being because I see these people, even if I feel powerless to help.

Mitch said he didn’t want to say, ‘See you next time’, because next time we come to Martin Place he didn’t want to be living there. He wanted to take his social security and start paying rent. From there he hoped he could get work. We asked if there was anything we could do now to help him. He simply said a hot meal would be nice.

Mitch could have turned his life into a sob-story. For various reasons, he’d been rejected by his family and society, but he expressed a determination to make something of his life. He possessed a strong sense of self-determination. He took responsibility for the poor choices he’d made, despite many of them being made as a result of even poorer situations outside of his control.

We gave Mitch some money to get some food and he thanked us for taking the time to stop and have a conversation. He thanked us for listening and for seeing him. We all agreed we didn’t want to see him next time we might pass through Martin Place. Hopefully, because he will have his own place and maybe even a job. I’d hate for him to become a long-term member of the invisible homeless, ignored by thousands every day, too busy with our own lives to stop and help. But Mitch not being on the street doesn’t change the fact that others will be and as long as there are people on the street can we honestly say we live in a fair and compassionate society? More likely we are living in an age of misaligned priorities. We look beyond the obvious, we relegate problems like homelessness to our peripheral vision, choosing not to see because it has become an issue that is hard to change. The reality is though that change is just as much an act of will as keeping things the same.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

The other day I heard a conversation on the radio about loneliness. In the program, an expert was discussing the difference between being alone and being lonely. Many people rang in with great ideas about how to stay connected. This is particularly concerning for older people who are increasingly finding themselves isolated in our society. I didn’t get a chance to call in but I wanted to because basically, I don’t get lonely. Well, I don’t anymore.

There are different kinds of loneliness and probably much like you, I’ve experienced many of them. I can recall being an angst-ridden and lonely teen. No one understood me, no one was ever going to understand or love me. At times that felt very cold and dark, but I always had a love of movies, books and music and could lose myself in those joys. It was also quite untrue as I had very good friends and a caring family. I wasn’t alone often but still there were times I convinced myself that I was lonely. In my teenage mind not having a girlfriend was definition enough to feel lonely, to feel I didn’t fit with social norms.

As an adult I’ve experienced a number of different personal relationships, some longer than others, some intense, others relaxed, committed, non-committal and the annoyingly undefinable. Regardless, I’ve come to see that for me the greatest sense of feeling lonely was the experience of lying next to someone and being completely disconnected from them. And after a number of relationships that didn’t work out I felt the loneliness of being on my own. For a time I wallowed in a sense of rejection, but then I recalled the sense of loss and disconnection with others and realised it was actually myself I was disconnected from. I took the opportunity of being single as a time to have a relationship with myself. I did things for myself that I would do for someone I was in a relationship with. I took myself to nice places, I made myself good food, I bought myself things I knew I would really like.

I enjoyed being with myself and I completely stopped being lonely. I came to a point where I was content to be alone but open to being in a relationship if it was equal to or better than being on my own. Ironically that state of being attracted a like-minded person and I find myself now in a wonderfully connected relationship. While we greatly value time with each other we also value time to ourselves and we understand that if things were to change it’s our connection to ourselves that underpins a sense of well-being.

We are social beings and we are also extremely suggestible. Our society continually pumps out messages about what is normal, what you should be feeling, thinking and doing. It’s no wonder we feel lonely when our lives don’t match up to the image being projected. But ultimately loneliness is a state of mind and it’s directly related to how we see ourselves and how we think society sees us. Connecting with others is an essential part of our social interactions, but connecting and remaining connected to ourselves could quite possibly be the best remedy for loneliness we’ve got.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere