I had an interesting conversation today with who may be one of the better people to grace this bruised and battered planet. She receives a pension from the state and does odd jobs - the odd jobs are so that she can continue to be able to pay her astronomical monthly medical insurance premium - so, she does not earn much and lives in a cottage on her son's property.
She lives in a city, which is something I have never done. She knows people from all walks of life, and today she told me a few stories of the different people she has met.
In South Africa, beggars are not an unusual sight. Most stand at traffic intersections with their scribbled please on cardboard sheets. It has become increasingly common to see white beggars, compared to the years closer to the end of Apartheid when it was unheard of. This lady knows some of the local white beggars, and one day asked a lady beggar if she wouldn't rather want to be a car guard. The lady beggar indignantly replied "no!", as if being a car guard was "beneath her". (Car guards are very common in SA) She then asked if she could earn R800 a day being a car guard, to which the answer was no. To earn R800 a day is quite unusual. That would mean that a beggar can earn R16000 a month by begging 5 days a week. That is more than most government employees (the ones who do the work, anyway), that is more than likely more than half of the population lives on per month. The minimum wage is more like R2000 (depending on where the employee is working - one earns less if one works in a rural area, for example). So a white beggar can earn 8 times more than the minimum wage, and a good deal more than many people earn.
This lady I spoke to has taken on feeding a poor family on occasion. She takes some food over to them on a weekly basis. The parents are unemployed and they have children. She said she could not stand spending money on herself when she could be feeding a couple of kids.
Maybe she was lying. Maybe she wasn't. Maybe she exaggerated her charitable actions. Maybe not. Regardless, if all people were to live this way then this world would immediately be a better place.
There is a common courtesy among people that has become far too uncommon. We treat and see each other as things to exploit, and this obviously leads us to assume that other people want to do the same to us. There is no respect for each other, there are no feelings of empathy or compassion. There is no willingness to work harder for the sake of another's happiness or livelihood. There is only this void of selfishness that sucks up our consideration for others. Now we can only think of ourselves. Where has the goodness in our society gone? Where has the willingness to help another cross the street without stealing their possessions afterward gone? Where has our desire for a better world gone?
It seems like we exist in a limbo of apathetic tendencies, not ever quite caring enough to make a real difference. Would it help if there were more better people in the world? Maybe. Even the best of us would have to be willing to give up everything we think we know.