12 Dec It’s all in our Nature
It’s in all our Nature
It is common knowledge that humans are supposedly more advanced intellectually than other species in the natural world because we have the so called advantage of rational thought. This is then often interpreted as suggesting that we are the more sophisticated and more superior specie. Also it is also interpreted as us being able to treat animals and other species however we want because we have dominion over them. Well I have long since disagreed with these notions. I do not believe you can measure worth based on a given set of genetic or physiological or cognitive attributes. I believe “worth” and “Value” are social constructions that in themselves have little “value” or “worth”.
I can remember thinking this in a lecture back in the 1990 as we discussed the way natural resources had guided the economic, political, cultural and social developments over time. It fascinated me that one resource such as Gold or Diamond for example are given such prestigious and monetary value. Don’t get me wrong both Gold and Diamonds are wonderful and fascinating and are made from indisputedly amazing processes taking place within the earth. However, “we” as humans decided that Gold and Diamonds were precious and valuable because they were rare, or had physical qualities that we felt were important. But let’s face it there are many rare resources these days because we have used them all up without care and consideration for their true value or worth to us as just one specie in a complex environment and ecosystem! Furthermore, every resource has physical qualities that if studied in greater depth would highlight how fundamental and fascinating they are to the equilibrium required to keep an environment alive and well.
I think we need to completely revisit how we give things “value” and “worth” in our lives. Last Saturday, as I walked across Cardiff I noticed a lady sleeping rough on the street. I expected to see someone sleeping in the subway that I approaching but it was damp and cold and this lady’s situation had triggered something in my mind and before I knew it and could justify walking on I had walked over to her and asked her if she was Ok and if she was hungry and if she would like me to bring her back something to eat.
Her first response to me was a look of surprise followed by a lovely compliment from her about my colourful hat, followed by a compliment from me to her about her lovely fluffy coat, followed by a moments thought. I said I would be about an hour in the city but if she would like a warm pasty or sandwich I would come back with it. I could see her surprise because she had noticed that I wasn’t walking that way but I had seen her and walked over. I took her request for a vegetarian pasty and continued under the subway where a familiar face met me. I had seen this gentleman before kipping in the subway
With my new found confidence I told the gentleman that I was returning in about an hour with a warm pasty for the lady round the corner and wondered if he too would like one. Once again I was met with surprise but I was really cheered up by him saying “Yes please… and can I have a latte if its not too much to ask” I laughed and said of course and I explained I would be back in a bit.
As I walked off in to the City my thoughts were all over the place. I have regularly done things like this but I realised I was doing it today with a new understanding of homelessness
. About a week ago I had listened to a brilliant Radio 4 show hosted by the fantastic Lemn Sissay. He was delivering a really clever and provocative program about how we deal with Homelessness. He had interesting people on the show from Shelter and other fundraisers like Sarah Morgan and also an open audience who he challenged with hypothetical questions that highlight the difficulties human nature poses for the homeless and the bystander who wants to help. Furthermore, it shouted out how incredibly simple it could be to change the situation. The numbers of people who are homeless are phenomenal. They do not simply refer to those who we see on the streets but also to a huge number of individuals who couch surf to survive a drastic change in their support structure. This is something that any one of us could relate to surely! No one is immune to the changes that can come from life experiences that we didn’t expect or plan for.
The de-humanisation of people who are struggling to survive on the streets for whatever reason never sits comfortable in me and I know it doesn’t for many others. However, even when we try to help we are often guilty of treating a homeless person differently. Lemn Sissay asked who had bought food for homeless people in the past? Many replied “yes” in the audience. He then reminded us that without asking if they have a dislike or allergy we could be harming them. This really struck with me because often we help by giving what we decide is good enough for someone in their situation. This has stayed with me in my subconscious.
How I described the situation that occurred last Saturday is a true story. I didn’t think about what I was doing I witnessed something that I couldn’t quite comprehend so my entire instincts guided me over to the young lady sleeping on the floor and the young man in the subway. These same instincts triggered an entirely new experience of sharing with the people I met that day. I think the lady could see this was an unusual day for her as she also saw me as a person and several times commented on my style and clothes and asked me questions about my life.
As I walked through the city I no longer had any desire to do the trivial bit of Christmas shopping I had intended doing. I did first of all go the art shop to get some paper but then felt like I was on a crusade. It popped in to my head that this lady with her fluffy coat may get the chance one day to wash and freshen up or perhaps not. Without even thinking I walked in to L’Occitane, the beautiful, French, natural cosmetic company and asked the assistant if she had a reasonably priced shower gel or soap that I could purchase to give to a lady who is sleeping rough on the streets. I told the assistant I was getting her food but I would like to get her something that will perhaps show her that I saw who she was, a woman, a person and someone who cared. The assistant gave me several sachets for free and I asked if she would explain to her Bosses what we had done and ask them if they would do more. I will follow this up with an email to the company. Since watching my daughter get fired up about the Extinction rebellion campaign earlier in the summer we had already written to the hugely popular natural cosmetics company Lush who closed their stores on the Climate Strike days. We asked them for advice on how to influence other stores to do the same. This approach has given me a sense of “no harm in trying” so i will add Homelessness as another important concern in my future emails!
When I got back outside it was drizzling with rain and it was cold. It occurred to me that I had been given something for free and so I decided then I would pop along to Mountain Warehouse and buy a couple of Bivvy bags to keep both the lady and the gentleman at least dry for the night. It was my lucky day they were buy one get one free! Finally, I picked up the pasties, doughnuts and coffees from Greggs and headed back. I was actually worried I may be bothering them by doing this and felt a little awkward when I arrived. Let’s face it how much of this was about “me” and how I felt about their situation and how much was about “them” and their situation. I don’t know the answers to those questions but I handed everything over to each of them and we had a little chat. Both said thank you and I went on my way. I know for sure that I saw them both as real people having to exist in appalling circumstances and I know that it made me want to remind them that I really cared about what they had to cope with and I wanted to make something change albeit temporarily.
However, those actions won’t change anything but Lemn Sissay made me realise that by supporting Homelessness projects and campaigning can make a difference. I felt inspired by a member of his audience who said that empty high street properties should be opened up for the homeless to sleep in at night. Planning Departments in Local Councils are always banging on about making the high street a “lived” experience again! Well, I agree and I think it must apply to the homeless and not just a gentrified population. Don’t make our high streets gentrified and thus unwelcome for those who have no where to sleep but make them a place for people to gain a sense of place, a sense of self worth and valued as a worthy part of society.
I would like to conclude by tying together my opening paragraphs about Human Beings considered to be the superior race because of rational thought. I haven’t seen much rational thought lately only self- focussed survival on many levels. Surely this tells us we are little different to the rest of the animal kingdom who focus primarily on the survival of the fittest. Rational thought has not made us superior but I think it leaves us inferior to other species. We are no more advanced right now as we enter an appalling stage of politics. This is just animals fighting animals. This is not a specie I am very proud to part of these days. However, in the summer I felt very proud to be a human being as I sat in the audience of the Homeless World Cup stands in Cardiff, Bute Park, watching some incredible performances by a homeless community that reached the entire world. Micheal Sheen spoke about the injustice of the hand life can deal us. He spoke about how he had found himself in a position in life that meant he knew he would work and live to a high standard and thus knew he could take time out and dedicate himself to supporting and campaigning on behalf of those affected by homelessness. I think this is what had stuck with and helped me want to do something rather than walk by. Many of us have a fantastic support structure behind us. We are the lucky ones and I don’t know about you but I have had some enormous kindness offered to me in my life and it made me strong. It is time to pass it on!