It was a moment that at once shocked me and made me feel resigned at the indifference of this world. On my way to work, rushing to get to the office on time, I was stuck at a light right before the 66 West on-ramp only to look to the left and catch sight of a yard sign that repulsed me to the core.
“Stop giving money to this SKEEZER! Wake up Fairfax, she is going to use the money for her dope, you are inviting this epidemic to your children!”
The sign was posted a few feet away from the intended target of this diatribe. I wanted to get out of the car, yank the sign, toss it to the side and give the homeless woman a few dollars as a gesture of kindness and encouragement. Instead, I sat there for two long minutes at the red light contemplating who would do such a thing and in the process felt even more powerless against the tides of malice that seems to be omnipresent in our time.
As much as I wanted to do something, I sat at the light defeated by the thought of numbing melancholy. This incident became a perfect encapsulation of why I decided to stop writing a few months ago, the woes of the world seem too bountiful and the spirit of solidarity needed to overturn injustice continues to shrink in the face of self-pursuit and self-centered activism. We live in a time of continual outrage where yelling past each other is valued more than listening to one another. In the process, the brokenness of the world continues to multiply but we are too busy fighting over politics, chasing validation and seeking vindictiveness to notice.
What is heartbreaking is the understanding that I’ve gained over the past couple of years. My own journey through the crucible of homelessness and feeling the frosty shoulders of society gave me an insight into why too many of us prefer to bash others who struggle instead of leading with compassion. It’s been said many times but it is worth noting to underline the premise of this article—hurt people hurt people. Really though, it’s more like broken people break people. When people are suffering, they would rather throw bricks at people who remind them of their plight while elevating those they wish they could emulate.
Proximity breeds indifference, shared suffering births malice. Of course, it’s not always this way. There are many who have felt the tinge of sorrow and the slings of loss only to choose empathy over antipathy. Sadly, this redeeming quality of humanity is being drowned out by a chorus of opinion leaders, media personalities, political operatives and social media dispositions that encourage rage and indignity. Every day, a new injustice is brought to the forefront in order to stoke our angers only for inaction and shrugs to be the end result. We get worked up over injustices far away while stepping over the broken souls who reside right by our homes—including ourselves. Instead of coming together to solve the grave issues of social injustices and economic inequalities that are creating a 21st-century caste system in America, we would rather expend our energies fighting over politics and petty… Click To Tweet
Not too long ago, I thought politics was a way to seek redress and address wrongs in society, now I realize that politics itself is the poison that is meant to cleave people and have us fighting each other. Campaign slogans, talking points and tribalism in the form of partisanship only enrich the wealthy while the rest of us are mowed down by them. As long as we see each other as labels and value ideology above our common humanity, we will continue to suffer as a consequence. After all, the broken live in six figure homes as much as they reside on city sidewalks.
In all honesty, I don’t know what the answer is when it comes to alleviating the suffering that seem to multiply on a year over year basis. I don’t write this to make it seem like I have figured out anything, if anything I am more lost now than I was when I was in the midst of indigence. However, one thing that I know to be true above all else is that only love can overcome this zeitgeist of hatred and indulgence that is infesting our nation. It starts within our hearts and the decisions we make on a daily basis, do we want to be consumed by acrimony or contribute with grace?
In the process, perhaps we should admit our own struggles instead of trying to solve the problems of the world. There is a reason, after all, that I did not get out of the car to take down the sign that repulsed me so much. I’ve been weighed down by a sense of helplessness that comes with the expectation that my writing alone could make a difference. I made the mistake of letting my ego supersede the humility required of all who yearn to see a change in the world. The change we seek are not loud revolutions that happen in a big bang, they are small acts of kindness that are imperceptible to us but can change the trajectory of people’s lives we touch without knowing it.
When we understand and address our own shadows, it is easier to be a light to the world::
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.