Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Asking for Proof (paper 2)

Sydney's picture

      In my last post, I described the connection that I believed that I shared with a man on the streets of my hometown. Because I have never spoken to him,  I  feel uncomfortable when contemplating the fact that I know that we somehow live vastly different lives. I do not even understand how I have come to that conclusion, as we only  “meet” each other for a fleeting moment. His life experiences, origins, thoughts, feelings, ideas remain a mystery to me. However, I know that we both experienced something unexplainable when we gazed into each others eyes. Or maybe that was only me. Maybe he was not even thinking of that present time. Maybe he was contemplating where he would get his next fix. Maybe he didn’t even see me when he starred in my direction. It’s hard to discern what happened from his perspective.

       I do believe, though, that that man’s life is filled with different obstacles than mine. Like the child in Omelas, I have seen individuals so used to the effects of drugs that their living conditions worsen. Their relationships with humanity often become tumultuous. I cannot know for sure how that man really lives, but based on the experiences of similar individuals, I fear that he suffers. My life’s difficulties, at the time, included maintaining good grades, doing well on the soccer field, and applying to colleges and universities.. Maybe I felt bogged down by the apparent hardships in my life, but at least I had peers struggling on my same level. I was capable of forming healthy relationships with friends. This man, though, I have seen the people who are similar to him. They have little. The chemicals they push into their veins make them hostile, make them depressed, make them alone.

      Similar to the people in Omelas, I took one short gaze at this man and felt sense of shame and sorrow. I wanted to do something worthwhile for him. I could have supported him. Where I live, people do not just walk up to drug users and introduce themselves. That is considered taboo. Likewise, the people in Omelas, hardly thought about saving the child left in the basement. They took small moment to assess the child’s terrible living conditions. However, no one dared to reach out to the child. They feared that the tale of their town is real. Even more so, these people may feared that if they break the social rules, then they too will be condemned to a life of social neglect. I should have separated myself from the people of Omelas. I should have done something greater for the man on the street.

     Even more unfortunate, many people in the world ignore drug users. They believe that their addiction is an abomination, a disease. Addiction is not a choice. The child in the story of Omelas did not chose to live in a lonely basement. I thought it was unfair to keep that child in a state of neglect if he or she had no desire to live that life.  It was unfair that the people of Omelas judged the child as an outsider without really knowing his or her identity. Was the child happy before his or her life fell apart? Did the child make one mistake that deemed it unfit to live with the rest of society? Perhaps the man who I saw on the street made one mistake that sent his life into a quick downward spiral. If my gaze was more inviting, then I could have possibly helped the man to feel more welcome in this world. Our connection felt very real to me, but I do not know if he experienced a feeling of acceptance that I desired for him to undergo.

      One of the main struggles in connecting with this man includes the issue of our power difference in society. Although I was just a high school student, people in my town would hardly judge me, viewing me as a girl who is living life on the accepted path. Although it was true that I was an average high school student, not too many people knew my life story. Drug users, on the otherhand, are immediately recognized in such a small town. People know your name, and the frightening fact exists that your name will be remembered by more people if you were in the paper for crime instead of a positive event, such as volunteer work. Although I have never experienced harsh judgement, I can, hardly second handily, relate to what the man might have undergone before. In small towns,  family ties are incredibly important. A family memeber of mine has been in trouble with drugs before, which was publicized in the newspaper. I have seen and heard the judgement that is tossed his way, and I am aware that many people do not even know him. It worries me that the man who I saw on the street probably undergoes similar hardships. Similarly, the child in Omelas had an unknown identity, yet people in his or her town were quick to place their own identity on him or her. If people never obstructed the path to creating equal social standings, then maybe that child, or those who are harshly judged for addiction, could live more peacefully within society, not on the outskirts as a marginalized individual.

      How could the barriers even be broken, though? Before our encounter, I saw myself as “better” than people like the man on the street. I had no reason for believing this, but like the people in Omelas, I based my ideas and actions on social rules. If others perceived me as a higher individual, then I must have been one. However, during and after my encounter, I realized that we were all too similar. I wish that I could have broken down the obstruction that others had placed in front of us. If I had more time, then maybe I could have helped the man to share his story or to tell others about the horrors that he may have encountered. Maybe that man could have shared my story in return. He could have told the members of his social group how I perceived them before  my experience. Their eyes could be open about people who want to help. If people did not created ideas that separated us, then maybe we would have the opportunity to explain ourselves. We could have shared our ideas with one another. Together, we could have broken down prejudice. Instead of running away or ignoring each other, like the people in Omelas, we could have helped others to understand that social norms should be tested in order to unite everyone into one group, not disconnect one another based just on stories without proof.