Is Compassion a virtue we’ve lost?

On February 25th of this year according to the Hindu calendar; my Mom turned 60. Traditionally when someone turns 60 in our culture we perform a pooja to please the almighty and pray to prolong their life.

We performed this pooja for my Mom at a temple, where we called some relatives and friends. The pooja took around 3–4 hours to complete and everybody was hungry by then. Me and my parents were quite exhausted. The ceremony was being performed on the 4th floor, and the lunch was being served on the 2nd; there was an elevator so everyone was quite comfortable moving around.

That’s when I saw an elderly man holding a quadripod walking stick standing near the elevator. His back was bent and the only support he had was the stick; he looked quite old, around 80 I presume. The elevator door opened and everyone rushed in, I thought he would enter too, but for some strange reason he decided otherwise. I was curious so I went and asked him “hello, do you need help entering the elevator” he said “thank you, but I am waiting for my wife to come so that we can go and have lunch together.” He was very polite; honestly speaking, I have never come across someone so polite in my life. I went back helping others to move to the lunch area. Couple of minutes later when everyone but few remained; I saw him still standing there and his wife had just arrived. I helped them enter the elevator, and they went to the 2nd floor. Once the elevator came back up, I helped the only few remaining enter the elevator and went by the stairs.

Before we venture further, I would like to point out few things about my tradition. We don’t usually have a buffet system and the food is served to you typically on a banana leaf. Also it’s frowned upon if you are not able to have food in the first round(sounds awkward, but duh! traditions). The second round is usually for the people who organized the event and also for the ones who served the food in the first round. So basically the guests have the food in the first round.

A traditional south indian lunch

Now, when I reached the 2nd floor I saw that all the table seats were taken but one. There were around 2–3 seats remaining on the ground though, but not everyone can sit on the floor. I saw the old man and his wife stand there looking for a place. I asked him “there is one place available would one of you be comfortable eating there?” to which he replied “It’s okay we can go have lunch after these guys are done.”I felt pity for the couple and looked around to see if I could ask anyone to give up their place. I found few but they were already comfortably sitting in their seats and looked a bit reluctant to move. Eventually I gave up; I apologised to the lady and the old man. They politely said “It’s okay we really don’t mind not getting seats for now, we will have food in the next round” then he said “Is it possible for you to arrange a chair for us while we wait?” I looked for chairs but there weren’t any around; I decided to take them back up to the 4th floor. I pressed the elevator button and once the elevator came I escorted them to the 4th floor. While we were in the elevator for that brief moment, the lady spoke to me, she said “Your mom is a lovely lady; she teaches me bhajans and we sing them together, I am in her Bhajan class; do tell her that we were glad she called us” I replied “Sure I will see to it that she knows.” When we reached the 4th floor I got them few chairs and asked my Aunt who was the only person there to see to it that they don’t feel left out. I went back to the 2nd floor to help my mom.

All this while what kept bothering me was why weren’t people ready to give up their seats to help the elderly couple? Have we as humans forgotten the virtue of compassion? Empathy, which is supposed to be one of our very valuable assets; getting oblivious! I failed to understand why, what had happened had happened and felt helpless. Witnessing something like this first hand does make one question about humanity. As a designer I am still looking at this problem as one of those puzzles which will baffle me for long and make me wonder what I could have done to make their experience better?

This is just one of the many incidents which made me wonder about us as humans. There are a few stories I have heard from colleagues and friends which made me think about our stand towards the misery of others — be it a road accident or helping a visually impaired person cross the road.

Finally, I would like to request you to remember this beautiful quote:

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” — Anne Frank

So do good and be nice. Let’s try to improve our society one good deed at a time and not allow our future generations to question our morality.