Shame on Us

February 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’m a romantic. I believed chivalry still lingered in the majority of people, men and women. I believed most parents instilled the fundamentals of courtesy, kindness and a willingness to assist. I was willing to forgive occasional lapses in teens struggling to find their way in a confusing world.

Today however my beliefs changed and I am trying to understand where we as adults, some of us parents, have gone so horribly wrong; how we as adults, some of us parents, have become so inured to every day efforts, so desensitised to other’s struggles that common courtesies are a feature of the past. We are able to wring our hands in unison at monumental tragedies on the other side of the world or in our own countries, to offer monetary succour perhaps; we are able to mobilise airlifts of food and medicines, send church groups to deliver babies, build hospitals and schools and proselytize. But these are all organised activities, at the behest of committees, or governments, or religious organisations.

The little everyday common or garden variety of kindnesses that make the days more pleasant seem to be sadly lacking in many of us. We are failing our young in not teaching by example.

Today I watched from behind the TSA barrier as a tall willowy young woman, obviously competent and very obviously pregnant, attempted to lift a carry-on bag onto the conveyor belt at the security check of IAH, Houston’s international airport. She removed a bulky cardigan, the one needed to ward off the frigid temperatures airlines use to numb their passengers, took off her boots, pulled out a regulation-size plastic bag with toiletries and placed them in the requisite bin. Next her handbag. Then she turned to lift a toddler from a stroller, removed the child’s boots and prised a soft toy from the sleepy arms before putting them in another bin. Next she folded the stroller, and like all mothers she was adept at the one-handed operation. And the coup de grace, while still holding the toddler, attempted to life the stroller onto the conveyor belt. It snagged and she struggled. The line of men and women behind her, of varying ages, were getting restless, she was getting flustered. Not one single person, official or fellow traveller offered any assistance. Instead an agent barked, “Do you have water in that bag ma’am?” She didn’t.

Shame on them.

Have we become so frightened of perceived threats that common decency has been thrown out? Are we so concerned others might think us a terrorist trying to hide an explosive, or a drug runner attempting to plant cocaine, or a paedophile about to snatch a child that we cannot offer to help our fellow travellers? Do we all live in fear?

I hear you say, “if someone cannot manage to travel without help while pregnant, or old or disabled, or with young children then they shouldn’t be travelling.” We don’t know the circumstances of their travel, and who are we to judge.

When, as a young mother I travelled with two toddlers across the world and then across it again, and again, most often on my own I was helped every step of the way by strangers. People of all races, men and women. What has happened to us? Is the world really so much worse?

Terrible things have always happened. They always will. But those people perpetrating the horrors will have won if we allow them the ability to frighten us into living in a bubble that moves with us as traverse life.

Courtesy, kindness and a willingness to help are in themselves small things, but put together those small efforts on an everyday individual basis go a very long way to making life so much pleasanter.

Next time you see a woman, pregnant or otherwise, struggling with a child, or someone disabled or careless enough to be old, offer to help. They might turn you down but offer all the same. It might be your daughter.

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