Despite all the mayhem in the world, compassion remains a natural human instinct

by Joanne Black / 15 June, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Joanne Black compassion

Tribute in Saint Ann's Square to the victims of the Manchester attack. Photo/Getty Images

Recently, I alighted from a bus at the same time as a man in an electric wheelchair who seemed to be struggling. The battery in his wheelchair was malfunctioning, he said, and he asked if I could push him. We went about four large city blocks and across a couple of major intersections until I got him to the building where he had an appointment. It was a strange trek, because apart from the considerable effort of pushing, I had to counsel him along the way. His life was crap, he said. We went past some dog turd on the footpath and he put his hand up to stop me, pointed at it and said, “That’s my life.”

He was grateful for my help but seemed annoyed that I would not join in his misery. “I’ve made bad decisions in my life,” he told me. “We all have,” I said. He said his life was very hard and I said I could imagine that because life is hard and being in a wheelchair must make even simple things more difficult. He was hard work in every sense. He said he wanted to give me money but did not have any, and I said I would not have taken it anyway. He had impinged on my time, he said. I was pleased to get exercise, I replied.

Eventually, we got to his destination and he was sure he could get to the appointment without further assistance, so I did not volunteer to wait to push him the four blocks back to the bus terminal. I hope someone else did and I have since thought of him often.

It must be hard to be confined to a wheelchair but harder still to find no joy in anything anymore. He seemed to be at least as trapped mentally as he was physically. Even though I had gone out of my way to assist him, he seemed to find no cheer in being reminded that there were people in the world who stopped to help strangers like him. Rather, the situation reinforced for him that he was useless and a burden.

But I am glad I helped. The more acts we see of suicidal criminals bent on cruel and malicious mayhem, the more reminders we need that compassion is a natural human instinct. In retrospect, I wish I had thanked him, although I think he would not have understood what I meant.

A couple of weeks ago, Montana elected a new representative to Congress, Republican Greg Gianforte, whose most notable act just before his election was to allegedly punch a Guardian journalist to the ground. Gianforte has been charged with assault but was elected anyway. In fact, a few extra people probably came down from the mountains to vote for him once news reached them that they had a candidate who was demonstrating such ideal qualities for public office.

Doubtless, when he gets to court he will argue extreme provocation, because the journalist had asked him about the effects of repealing Obamacare. Gianforte obviously found it unreasonable that a congressional candidate should be subject to questioning about public policy.

A friend in Montana wrote to me and said, “Greg Gianforte doesn’t represent this state. Okay, he does now, but you get what I mean.” It’s exactly the same way that President Donald Trump does not represent a huge swathe of the US.

He speaks for them, because he is entitled to as President. But he does not represent them.

This article was first published in the June 17, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


Get the Listener delivered to your inbox

Subscribe now


MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Cutting costs: The perils of buying a chainsaw
73472 2017-06-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Cutting costs: The perils of buying a chainsaw

by Rebecca Hayter

Rookie lifestyler Rebecca Hayter on sawing the wood for the trees.

Read more
Hell and high water: When climate change comes lapping at your door
73401 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Environment

Hell and high water: When climate change comes lap…

by Anke Richter

The world’s first climate change refugee now lives in a quiet Dunedin suburb. For Sigeo Alesana, life in this southern city is a long was from home.

Read more
Film review: Rosalie Blum
75175 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Film review: Rosalie Blum

by Peter Calder

Rosalie Blum is a charming comedy of déjà vu and stalking.

Read more
Tatai Whetu revives seldom-heard pre-European musical culture
75198 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Music

Tatai Whetu revives seldom-heard pre-European musi…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The sounds of taonga puoro are harmonising with Western instruments on concert platforms.

Read more
The Pill in New Zealand: Freedom - and denial
75395 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Health

The Pill in New Zealand: Freedom - and denial

by Justin Gregory

"My doctor simply would not prescribe me the Pill. He was very disapproving. 'Haven’t you learned your lesson?’"

Read more
Best red and white wines for winter
75447 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Wine

Best red and white wines for winter

by Michael Cooper

The winter chill has us instinctively reaching for bold reds and sturdy whites.

Read more
What to do and see in Auckland
74332 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Sport

What to do and see in Auckland

by Noted

The shopping! The beaches! The cafés! The volcanoes! Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest and busiest city and has everything on offer all the time.

Read more
How the All Blacks inaugural World Cup triumph revived the game of rugby
75187 2017-06-24 00:00:00Z Sport

How the All Blacks inaugural World Cup triumph rev…

by Paul Thomas

The sport was bruised by the fallout from the 1981 Springbok tour, the rebel Cavaliers’ visit to South Africa and a rampant rival football code.

Read more