I was watching a youtube interview, or actually a series of youtube interviews with people from what the creator termed the underbelly of society. Now underbelly is a loaded term, but here he means it in the ‘vulnerable’ sense. He referenced Churchill calling Italy the soft underbelly of the axis powers. In this sense, he finds the interviewees amongst the most vulnerable in our society.
One of the most intelligent questions I’ve ever heard is ‘How does this impact the vulnerable?’ It was a question I heard used by a wise man to describe his political philosophy. He was ideology agnostic; a person who has a heterogeneous and varied political philosophy. The crux of his beliefs is that simple question. Anytime a new idea comes his way or a new proposal is proposed he asks how it will impact the vulnerable?
Watching these people, people from all manner of situations, all manner of ages and places in life, united only in their vulnerability was gut wrenching. My heart broke with each word, with each story they relayed. To hear their voices, ripe with emotion or a hollow lack thereof, was mesmerizing. Not in the way of some sort of suffering porn, not sitting in my stuffed chair in my climate controlled apartment looking down my nose at their station in life. It was mesmerizing in that they exist at all. I’m not so painfully naive to assume that prostitutes, addicts, and criminals exist but it feels like they almost become statistics for those of us who but by the machinations of fate and happenstance do not interact with them every day. To put faces, and a diversity of faces, to them is to see one’s own failings to empathise and assist, and to hold one’s self weak for this failing.
A comment described this channel as a crash course in empathy and I think that is a far more eloquent take on it than I could produce. I would never wish to meet a soul that looked at these good people, and I do mean good people, and turn a blind eye echoing the beats of a hardened heart. I know I am not the epitome of empathy, I’d give myself an average score all things considered, but holy hell did I feel it swell, rising within me and overflowing in choked back tears as I heard them recount their stories.
I feel that modern life is often so devoid of empathy. It is a hollowness in our world that has the trademark thud of all cavernous spaces. The curmudgeon in me channels the luddites and says it is the internet and the anonymity of being able to troll without consequences have rewarded this very opposite of empathy with social esteem. As much as I’d love to condemn that symptom and forget the disease, I cannot. The true disease, though, I can’t pin down. Is it our social circles have evolved beyond tribe size and our ability to care goes down logarithmically from the maximum number of people we can personally know? Is it that we are, perish the thought, a cold and uncaring species by nature? I would guess the causes are as diverse as there are humans, nearly 8 billion unique reasons for our failings.
My brows can not furrow this problem away and my intellect is insufficient to understand the problem in its entirety much less propose any manner of solution. I can merely listen to some moody songs from my childhood and sit in my chair heartbroken. And perhaps, if it is up to me to decide any great decision, consider the vulnerable first and foremost when I do so.