“Why? Why is all of this violence happening and why should I care? Why should any of us care. After all, I don’t live in those neighborhoods, I really don’t even drive through them. I don’t know any of the victims and I am not responsible for them. As long as I stay away from that area or those people, I don’t have to deal with it and the people who live there should clean up their own mess.” Does any of that sound familiar? If you haven’t had those thoughts, do you know someone who has? I do. In part one of this post, we discussed the wave of violence that is gripping certain areas of the City of Chicago. I said that I was going to explain to you why the effects of this intense violence is not just limited to a particular neighborhood or a particular race of people. As I said before, this is not a problem of the African-American community but, one that affects the American community at large.
When I was about 10 – years – old I was visiting my sister in Chicago when I encountered my first homeless person. I am originally from a small town about 3 hours west of Chicago on the Mississippi River and unless you counted the winos that hung out in front of the local liquor store, I had never seen a homeless person, nor had I given it much thought. I was completely shocked to see this person, with all of her belongings, sitting against the side of a building. I’m sure that I stared because in all of my naivety I just couldn’t imagine not having a home to go to or people to care for you. My sister just guided me right past and once we got out of ear shot I asked “Where does she sleep at night?” and “How does she get food?” I was truly troubled by this woman’s plight. So much so that all of these years later, that homeless woman is the only thing that I remember about that specific visit with my sister. Well, except the night that we all got gussied up and went to the Palmer House for dinner and had oysters on the half shell before going to the symphony. I woke up in the middle of the night and threw up the oysters. Guess they don’t go well with 10-year-olds. Since then, I have seen and personally known many homeless people. I no longer stare at them when I walk past and in fact, I have walked past some and not realized that they were there. I have been drawn in by the stories about how this one or that one really didn’t have to be homeless because they were from a wealthy family but, they were too crazy to stay home. These stories may or may not have been true but, it really doesn’t matter because whatever the reason, their plight was still very sad. What happened to me is that I have become desensitized to the plight of the homeless because I see it all of the time. I’m not saying this because I am proud of it, I am saying this because it just is.
Apathy. Apathy is a very dangerous thing because, much like cancer, once it forms in one area, it can easily spread into other areas of our lives. For instance, being apathetic to homeless people makes it a lot easier to be indifferent to others in difficult situations. Now, I’m not saying that we all need to be equally passionate about all things but, when it comes to the human condition we should all be able to offer, at the very least, some compassion, sincere prayer and condolences to those who are in need. Apathy plays a big part in the “why” we are not showing up to these families that are losing loved ones weekly. It is true that in the middle of our own very busy lives, it would take a very intentional effort to turn our focus to someone else’s problems. We would actually have to seek out information about the victims and their families, decide how we are going to get involved and we would have to pay attention to news that we would rather bypass. I believe that it is worth the effort because indifference will only further alienate us from one another and if you haven’t noticed, that is a bad thing.
Self – righteous justification. The notion that there is some reason why people do not deserve your compassion because of the circumstances of their lives. So, because they are gangbangers or drug dealers or because their parents didn’t have the wherewithal to move out of that gang infested neighborhood, they don’t deserve any empathy or help. Believe it or not, this mentality is far more common than you might think. I once heard a conversation where a man, that I actually know, said that the solution to Chicago’s crime spree would be to put snipers on the tops of buildings on the periphery of the neighborhoods most affected and when someone from the neighborhood crosses the line, shoot them. The real irony here is that we were at a Bible study when he said it. What love, right? My husband, who is originally from Chicago, comes from one of those areas that would be closed in by the snipers in this man’s scenario. My husband has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University, loves his family, works hard and is a law-abiding citizen. Not really the kind of guy that you would want to keep surrounded by snipers and I believe that there are more young men and women, just like him, waiting to get out of there, with the right intervention and support. Believe it or not, the majority of the residents living in these affected areas are NOT bad people. In fact, they are good people who just want to live and work, and raise a family free of the violence. Their circumstances just dictate that this is where they can afford to live. Does that make them undeserving of a kind word or a helping hand?
In the absence of hope, despair settles in and takes over. Despair often leads to violence and violence knows no boundaries. Therefore, none of us are really immune to it…it will find us. If you listen to many of these young offenders talk, they have seen so many of their peers die before they ever get out of their teens that they themselves don’t expect to live to see twenty-one. Therefore, if they don’t value their own lives, why would they value anyone else? Our, the public’s, silence only further reinforces the notion that these are not lives that anyone wants to save. Keep in mind that a good number of the victims are innocent bystanders. Still, silence. Doesn’t the mother of that 6-month-old deserve our support? What about the mother of the 7-year-old who just happened to be selling candy in front of her house when shots rang out and struck her in the back? Or, the mother of the 15-year-old high school student who one week after performing for the President was shot while sitting in a park with friends? Aren’t these all the same as the people who just happened to be in a movie theater when a guy shows up and starts shooting? Weren’t all of these people just in the wrong place at the wrong time? I think they are all the same and I think that it’s time that we all show up.