#OpSafeWinter Kindness costs nothing

cwg8jydwaaa6bhvIt’s really easy to close the door on the rest of the world. To forget not only your own worries and troubles, but those of others as well. I think that tends to happen during the holiday times too.

We encapsulate our own own family unit and perhaps a few friends. Lock the door, draw the curtains and are happy for our own complicated yet fulfilling slice of paradise or the small things that make us personally happy.

No preachy tone intended or implied, I tend to do the same.

I think it is really important to try and open the door and your eyes to others now and again. Let the uncomfortable make way for the events and people in life that don’t fit into the boundaries, morals and ideological ideas we surround ourselves with.

It’s the small gestures of kindness that help us to retain our humanity or at least give us the feeling that we have managed to open the door a smidgen to the world outside our tiny castles. Castles encircled with moats filled with misconceptions, trust issues and a strong sense of survival of self.

I live in a small coastal town on the English coast, a fairly large town with about 9000 inhabitants. We have an active community with four churches of various denominations. In the last few years the economy and the ensuing recession has hit both big and little businesses, and of course the common folk very hard. Combine that with the Tory governments constant punishment of the working and middle classes, and you get a lot of people in need.

A lot of families and children living in First World poverty. That isn’t a dig by the way, it is just establishing a clear difference between our level of poverty and a Third World level. Many more people and families are homeless or are facing homelessness as you read this. Unable to meet their basic needs. Food, drink, warmth, clothing and a roof over their heads. Even our little town has had to awaken from their bubble and face the occasional homeless person on our streets.

Our community has an active foodbank, which is put to good use every day to feed people in need. The children (families) in our schools collect for the those without, our supermarkets have donation crates, and the attitude of helping those in need is promoted.

It isn’t exactly a long jump from being in need, being hungry and unable to make ends meet to not having enough money to afford a roof over your head. There are plenty of reasons why people become homeless. Mental health issues, financial difficulties, landlords evicting tenants, veterans returning to zero support from their nation.

So, what can we do,you do or I do? What small act of kindness can we take part in, because small connecting acts of kindness is all it takes to establish a better ethos of supporting our fellow human beings or humanity in general.

Now, let me tell you, giving or donating money, blankets or food to an unknown and unseen entity is entirely different to physically helping someone face-to-face. A person you can actually see, hear and talk to. Giving to the unknown entity seems to be the easier feat. The faceless, nameless person, who evokes a short spurt of sympathy and is quickly forgotten in the busy humdrum of life. Much easier to deal with than the living, breathing person with a face and a voice.

When we, you or I encounter a homeless person there can be a multitude of reactions. This is the royal we by the way, and I am in no way insinuating any specific behaviour on your part.

Some people avoid eye contact, Some people walk by and stare, then there are the people who dare to have a quick glimpse. Some people pop money in the cup, others buy food and drink and some people ask if they need help of any kind.

We all react differently, but I don’t doubt the good intentions of the majority of us. Avoiding eye contact or the issue of homelessness is often just due to a feeling of complete and utter helplessness. The feeling that one more drop in our barrel may be the one that makes our cup runneth over, and not in a good way.

Although I think the majority of us tend to want to help I was surprised recently by the reaction of our small town to a homeless gentleman. Yes, this is finally the point I was getting to. I know, I rabbit on a bit, but I get there eventually. The town has a FB page for info and grumblings of all sorts of things. The homeless man was mentioned on there, which started off a discussion of about 400 comments.

I have to say I was surprised by the sheer negativity, the judgemental tone and quite frankly both the misconceptions and assumption that this man was untrustworthy and up to no good.

Luckily the negative was balanced out by the larger voice of common sense and positivity. I am happy to say he was offered help, shelter, housing, food, clothing and somewhere to shower. Despite that I think the reactions are indicative of our society in general.

We are taught not to trust. We are brainwashed into avoiding anything or anyone who doesn’t conform to the status quo. Look away and ignore the uncomfortable. Pretend they aren’t there then it isn’t happening.

Is that really how we want our future generations to act? Do we really want them to know we turned a blind eye in favour of ourselves, as opposed to helping another human being? Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking we are the great humanitarians, whilst children and adults sleep outside in the cold and starve.

Anonymous #OPSafewinter is still hard at work connecting people, skills, food, shelter, clothing and events to help those who need a helping hand. Instead of looking forward to a 21st century without hunger, thirst, poverty or homelessness, we are moving towards a period in time during which it seems to be more dire than it has been in the last few decades.

It’s certainly time we took a step back and evaluated how we can do our fair share to help, even if it is only a wee bit at a time. You never know what twists and turns your life will take. It’s time to step up and start that chain with a small act of kindness. Keep the ball rolling and perhaps in doing so we can change not only the lives of others, but also our own for the better.

Go to opsafewinter.org and Opsafewinter.net for the many initiatives to help the homeless.

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