Calming the ire

A recent post on Sushicam has inspired quite a few comments that have, in some cases, escalated into flames. The owner of the site, Jeff Laitila, wrote a story about how he gave some food to a homeless woman while visiting Kamakura. Many people wrote in to say that they found this action noble and inspiring. However, one person has popped up presenting an alternate view. While this person’s posts are relatively well-written, there is a tone of condescension in them that has enraged more than a few of the other posters. I took a crack at calming some of the ire; since I thought what I wrote was fairly interesting, I figured I’d reproduce it here for you guys. (Am I egotistical or what?)

Well, I think it’s okay for someone to disagree with the “general concensus” concerning the homeless, picking up stray cats, etc. I do think it could be done more politely, but that’s just a personal preference.

I don’t think continuing to respond to perceived insults is productive, however. Some of the responses to these opinions have been downright rude! I think we should all concentrate on the meat of the posts and ignore, for the most part, the manner in which they are written. Sushicam doesn’t particularly need a flame war.

Jeff has made it obvious that informed, insightful discussion is welcome here. Jumping all over someone for offering a different outlook doesn’t provide a conducive environment for that kind of discussion.

So, to that end, I will respond to the meat of the issues instead of the tone.

I have only been to Japan twice, once for five weeks and once for ten days. As such, my breadth of knowledge is slim, although I did travel quite a bit and see many different areas. Based on my experience, I would have to agree that Tokyo feels very unfriendly when compared to the rural parts of Japan.

For example, when I was in (I believe) Akita, I was walking along a little road when I saw an elderly gentleman slowly–so slowly it was almost surreal–fall to the ground. I wasn’t sure if I should pretend I hadn’t seen it, in order to protect his pride, or if I should try to help him. As I stood there trying not to stare at the man in embarrassed indecision, a little old woman moved towards him and asked him if he was all right. He thanked her and said he was fine. So, obviously, helping him would not have been a bad thing.

Based on Jeff’s stories about people making mistakes and taking tumbles in Tokyo, and on my own unwelcome feelings in that city, I’m not sure this would have happened the same way there. I think a case could be made for the rural vs. urban argument–although, again, we are in danger of propagating a stereotype.

As far as helping the homeless, I’ve always been from the “help them help themselves” camp–so I tend not to give money to a beggar who is sitting on a street lined with bars, and if I could I would offer to buy a meal or two in exchange for some sort of work (whatever they were able to do). I’d rather do that and give them a sense of pride than throw them a handout. This of course means I haven’t helped many homeless people, because I don’t have a lot of odd jobs around for them to do…that and I don’t routinely bump into homeless people where I live. But yeah, I would rather help them get a job or help them do something that would give them a sense that they are worth something and can achieve things. I realize this isn’t always the case…the job market might be terrible in that area, or there might be other problems…but I think that the moment you lose pride in yourself and give up on trying is the moment you become a burden to others. And the longer you are a burden to others, the more you feel worthless and hate yourself. It’s a downward spiral. Helping someone break out of that would be awesome.

However, just because I believe that doesn’t mean I’m right. And I think that any attempt to help someone in need is noble. That is why I praised Jeff for his offering to the old woman.

As for picking up stray animals, I think that takes a certain amount of selflessness that a lot of people don’t have. It’s a lot of trouble to take care of an animal. If you’re in the survival of the fittest camp, I imagine that doing something like this–and also, for that matter, giving handouts to the homeless–seems like supporting the low end of the spectrum, when those people/animals should just die, or at least raise themselves up and stop being burdens. (After all, if they aren’t fit enough to survive, then why should they survive?)

However, survival of the fittest hasn’t been the rule of life for as long as we’ve had medicine, so I think that is a fairly simplistic way of evaluating the world. If anything, we can say “survival of the richest”, but with social programs and other projects/charities to help those in need, even this is a misnomer.

I don’t think any economic system is perfect–or natural, for that matter. People are failed by the system and therefore need assistance…it isn’t that they are unfit or not ideal for something that is perfectly natural and that everyone should conform to. They exist–that is what is natural. I believe that it has been humanity’s goal for some time now to figure out how we are supposed to live. We don’t know it yet. We don’t know how to take care of ourselves properly. If we did, no one would starve. Social programs and charities are bandaids that at least partially cover the wounds, but they don’t heal them, and we keep having to reapply the bandage.

I don’t know what the solution is, mind you :) I’m just saying that no one is perfect, no human construction is infallible, and all we can do is all we can do. We have to evaluate what is important to us in the long run and work towards that sort of goal as best we can. And we have to revise our plans along the way :)

1 comment

  1. Original comments from Livejournal

    mattgunterman – 2004-02-11 14:17

    Thanks so much for the contrats, Heather! I had such a big, big presentation to give today that I couldn’t be happy yesterday. But the presentation went off without a hitch and now I’m free to feel the joy! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!! I’m goin’ Howard Dean on you!

    Anyway, I took the time to sign up for an account and so now you’ll not have to ever again look up my IP address. But maybe I’ll just pout and never leave comments again! ;-P

    cosleia – 2004-02-11 18:25

    Don’t do that! :D I was just really flattered that you were reading my blog, is all, since you are like, at Yale, and busy :> So I wasn’t 100% certain it was you, even though I don’t think I know anyone else at that university :>

    Anyway, I have really enjoyed your comments and I hope you keep making them! And I’ll try to comment more on your journal too. I was sort of embarrassed because no one else seemed to be writing anything…I was thinking that maybe all your new friends are too “cool” to “comment” on a “journal”, or something ;> But yeah, I like reading all about what you’re up to in New Haven and elsewhere. (And those pictures of me that you had up from GSP were a hoot!)

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