The old clique says “knowledge is power”. But there are times when knowledge and whatever liberation supposedly comes with it, are not enough to give freedom to your speech.
When someone is suffering it is the base instinct of any morally aware person to want to extend the helping hand of the more fortunate to them. Yet that is precisely the problem; want to.
The action to follow the desire does not always come. It is not always something achievable. There is often something stopping you aiding a person. It may be that you have the tools to improve their situation. Maybe you are the only one who can.
Then that wall comes rushing at you and suddenly you’re stopped; words crumble to dust and silence in your mouth, your tongue becomes nothing more than a pointless lump in an empty cave.
So, for whatever reason, your snaps shut and the right words die. Instead, the thoughts fire through your mind and fill it with electric little snaps, desperate flashes of all the things you wish you could say, but can’t and so must suffer alone.
Sometimes the barrier is created socially.
Maybe you are walking down the street, spot a homeless person and are about to give them a fiver when a companion makes a comment about how hobo’s are in such situations because of something they themselves are responsible for; either how they have no-one to blame but themselves or how their system is corrupt and they are actually faking poverty and being paid a bomb. Such capitalist tales are not uncommon, after all. Corporate fat cats praying on the good will of others by creating a twisted circle in which the genuinely needy miss out on their meagre hand-outs.
The hand in the pocket slips past the loose change and pulls out a luxury item – perhaps a phone – instead.
Guilt crossed with a determination to fit in, enforced by that companions rant will make that phone feel like it weighs a tonne; but your apologetic grimace (if you can even muster it) will not keep that poor person warm at night, not will it fill their empty belly.
And the worst part? That person, while sitting on the coldest, lowest wrung of society with exactly zero to their name, will probably look right back at you and understand. Probably even thank you on your way by, wish you a pleasant day. And you had better go and try to have one, because it can be sure as hell guaranteed that they won’t.
No matter how much you know you deserve their angry screams and hateful diatribe, no matter that the phone in your hand could probably feed them for six months, none of it will come. Because they will know why you stayed quiet.
Columnist for the Independent, Laurie Penny, stated in an article in last Sundays edition that she once gave “a homeless man half a Lucky Strike out of my own mouth”. However, placed in said situation, would she still have been able to execute this desperate level of charity, an act on the overwhelming urge to do something?
That wall of conformity has meshed with the collective responsibility to keep it that way and a cowardice to change that attitude has spawned.
Our only hope is that somewhere along the line we can collect enough common sense, or even the common decency that we share between us, and liberate the knowledge of what is the human thing to do, to act in the instincts of kindness that we all feel to some extent, from the restrictions that are sadly crushing the community of our society.