Thursday, January 29, 2015
"Don't get involved."
"Don't get involved, Erin."
I hear this all the time. I have heard this all the time most of my life. Why? Because, it's hard for me not to get involved. It's hard for me to walk away when I see something unjust. It's hard for me to walk away when someone is struggling or in pain. It's hard for me to walk away because, on some level, it always resonates with me. And I understand why my friends and family and acquaintances say, "Don't get involved, Erin." Maybe it's none of my business, maybe it's dangerous to get involved, maybe I'd only make things worse. And sometimes these maybes do prevent me from getting involved. But damn it, sometimes, against all better judgement, I do get involved, and sometimes, just maybe, it makes a small difference.
The past couple of weeks, I've been dealing with a neighbor, in my building, who is clearly struggling, struggling in a way that is a little scary and potentially (and probably inadvertently) putting others in harm's way. I haven't gotten involved because everyone keeps telling me not to do so. But, it's been bothering me to watch a person unravel and report the disturbing and scary things this person has been doing (because I am generally concerned about the welfare of others, myself included) and not have the guts to just ask this person if he or she is okay, if he or she needs some help.
What if that's what this person needs? What if he or she needs someone to just ask or just listen or just care?
Currently, this person is MIA, has not been seen for several days. If he or she comes back, do I stay behind my sunglasses, walking quickly past his or her open door, noting the chaos that he or she obviously on some level wants to show the world? Or do I get involved? Do I stop and ask a human, who is in obvious and startling distress, if he or she is okay, if I can listen, or direct them to some sort of services, or remind them that he or she matters?
This sort of quandary reminds me of how little we all do, how infrequently we get involved. I used to be far more involved and when I look at how much I'm doing on a daily basis to help, I think I fail. Sure, life gets in the way. Sure, we are all too busy. Sure, we have priorities that come first, like children. But, I want to raise a kid who knows that he should get involved, that he does have a social responsibility to open his eyes and not walk quickly by obvious signs of distress.
I get frustrated by people who post negative videos/articles/facts all day on Facebook. Because, other than complaining loudly, what are they doing? I've been guilty of it, I am sure. Instead of flooding the internet with opinions about how fucked everything is here or there or everywhere, go do something. Stop raising money for politicians who are kind of all the same anyway. Stop signing petitions and letting it end there. Stop thinking that marching in a protest is enough. You want to do those things? Great. But, what about actual people, living breathing people, who we pass every day on the street, people of all walks of life, with all sorts of pain.
Maybe go volunteer with a literacy program and help a kid (or an adult) learn to read who may not have parents willing or capable of doing so. Maybe go help in some way with one of the many organizations providing services for the homeless population. Maybe ask someone if they're okay. Maybe if we all were willing to get a little involved, there would be a little less pain in the world. Maybe that's where it all starts.
I don't mean for this to be a rant. I know we are all "doing the best we can." But, I think we can do better. I want to try to do better. I don't know what I'll end up doing about the neighbor. I guess I'll have to weigh safety factors, because of our close proximity and the level of his or her dangerous behavior. But, thinking about all of this reminds me that I could be/should be doing more. It reminds me that, in general, I'm not going to listen to you when you tell me, "Don't get involved, Erin."
If you live in NYC, here is a small sampling of where you can get involved. Many of these organizations have similar programs in other cities.
God's Love We Deliver
Literacy New York
The New York Foundling
Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City