Have We Become Numb to Neighbors in Need?
Amid the breathtaking scenery of Cape Town and it’s many luxurious homes and amenities, it’s clear to us who visit that both wealth and poverty are rampant.
Every night, steps from my hotel lays a father and his young child under piles of worn sheets and comforters, huddled close to stay warm. On this, my third, multi-week business trip to Cape Town in about year, I’ve felt at times that I’ve become numb to those in need.
Just like many native Capetonians, it’s not uncommon for a dozen people to approach me while I’m sitting in traffic and ask for spare change or motion to me from the side of the road that they are hungry, and that’s just heading into work each morning. In the evening while taking a walk around town, people will follow follow me, sometimes for blocks, at times annoying and relentless in their pursuit of my spare change. Poverty here is both heart breaking and exhausting.
Even so I ask, how is that we as a society have allowed ourselves to become so desensitized to the poverty that surrounds us that when a young boy, incredibly shy, adorned in dirty and tattered rags asks us for leftovers or a bite to eat, we tell him “no” or “go away”? Then, as if it were nothing we walk inside the fancy eatery where we sit by ourselves, with spouses or friends, or with our families filled with children about the same age as the boy outside and gorge ourselves on 5 courses and then leave leftovers sitting on the table.
How is it that a child of maybe 7 has more empathy then his parents and so when they aren’t looking, he wraps up half his meal and gives it to the boy sitting just outside the window.
Why is it that those who offer this kid a seat at the table in the nice restaurant are met with judgmental glances and scorning looks from many of those seated around them. Why does the child feel so awkward and ashamed to be treated with dignity and respect that he just wants to leave when the food arrives.
Listen, I know we lead busy lives, but how many of us ever stopped to wonder what these people’s stories are or to think about what it would be like if the roles were reversed and we had to walk a mile in their shoes?
The boy asking for help outside the restaurant today was real, his name is Tilon and he’s an incredibly timid little guy whose in 6th grade, enjoys reading and is taking care of his brother, baby sister, and mother. He’s done nothing in this world to deserve the deck he’s been dealt and is doing whatever he can to survive. In his pocket he holds a crinkled and well creased note of encouragement from his mother telling him to never give up.
This post isn’t about passing judgement or imploring you to give money or food to those in need at all times, it’s about asking you to have a heart, give when you feel led to, show grace and treat people like Tilon with the same dignity and respect you show your neighbors, friends, and family.