What Would You Do?
I don’t know if this is worth sharing but I’m curious as to what people think because it just happened and it’s weighing on my mind a lot. I was sitting in a fast food joint and eating lunch when I suddenly got the feeling that someone was watching me. It turns out that someone was — this middle aged, middle Eastern looking lady was standing in one corner, looking despondent and eyeing everyone’s food.
She then started approaching tables, not for money, but instead asking for left overs of the food and also to ask if someone would be willing to buy her food in broken English. I watched all around as a couple of people gave her leftover fries while almost everyone else outright refused to the point where some even refused to acknowledge her presence, instead looking away into the distance as though they were witnessing the most interesting wall texture ever encountered.
In that moment, there was somehow an almost unsaid rule all around the eatery to conform and act the same way; this dehumanizing way that made a person’s entire existence & experience irrelevant. People were glancing at others and I’m not sure if it was to see if anyone else did what they didn’t dare to do or to see if everyone acted in accordance with whatever unsaid rule says you ignore a desperately hungry person who is walking up to you and telling you “I’m so hungry, can you buy me some food”. I don’t know how we’ve all managed to so deeply embed this learned apathy towards someone’s plight because we are told, “don’t encourage it”, or in the case of money “it will be used for something else” and more.
Finally she approached me while I was eating and my first impulse was to think that I should either conform and not break the norm or at best give her some money and ask her to move on. There was such an intense feeling of social pressure from the fact that everyone was observing this whole thing without acting while somehow judging everyone else. At the same time, I felt such a strong sense of cognitive dissonance and guilt from how I talk such a good game about wanting to make a difference and then in that moment I was seriously considering going along with the crowd and being yet another person who would greet someone's hunger with at best a distant sympathy and zero action. In the end, I gave in to my inner self and asked her to wait for a minute as I quickly finished my meal before going back up to the counter to let her order what she wanted for which I then paid and left.
I’m still feeling such a strong sense of dissonance and discomfort even now though and I feel so terrible about so many aspects of what I just experienced. It pains me, the way a collective group of people in supposedly one of the most progressive societies in the world managed to brush off someone’s palpable hunger as something they couldn’t be bothered with. It bothers me that we live in a world where people are brought to such levels of hunger even in this developed nation and that too a nation that was recently rated “happiest” by the UN. It upsets me that I’ve also become so desensitized to this when I’m in India. I’m also feeling inexplicable guilt about the fact that I don’t know if I’ve encouraged “bad” behavior of some kind and did something wrong, when all I did was help a hungry person get a meal.
So imagine you were in this situation. What would you do?