I was walking into work today with a crowd of other people and the guy selling the homeless newspaper (I don’t know if he himself is homeless or not, but I think he probably is) started coughing. Everyone ignored it, like people do in a city. If someone’s outside your context, like if they’re not dressed for work like you are or in the same socioeconomic class you are, you are just supposed to walk past them like you don’t see them on the street. Especially if they are doing something unusual like having a coughing fit.
Anyway, this guy’s coughing fit got worse, and then he kind of sounded like he was hacking up a lung. Nobody turned around. They were all just herding towards the door of the building. Until one lady threw a glance over her shoulder to check on the guy. Maybe she was making sure he wasn’t dying, or maybe she was just looking back for her friend, or who knows. But as soon as she did that, four other people turned around to check on the guy. He stopped coughing right after that and was fine.
But I thought, you know, we really are pack animals sometimes. Nobody was going to turn around and look at that guy, even though we all heard him. Until one person broke the social logjam. Her actions made it socially acceptable for everyone else to turn around and check on the guy. She acknowledged his humanity and brought him into her context. Because she was an office worker, all the other office workers knew she was in their context, and so by proxy now the homeless guy was too. So we can check and make sure he’s not dying, because he’s de facto one of us, just for a minute.
Humans are weird like that.
The moral of the story is: Be the person who makes it okay for everyone else to treat other people like human beings.