Why I don’t feel enough compassion

It was a dark and rainy Friday evening in downtown Victoria. I felt like having a burger after watching a series of short IMAX films. I drove to a fast food burger joint close by, ordered a couple burgers, and sat down. After a few bites into my burger, I couldn’t help but notice this lady who came in.   She looked decrepit and hungry. She was either homeless or was living in less-desirable conditions. Her facial expression looked desperate.  She looked as if she had been aged prematurely either by drugs or alcohol.  I saw her rummage through the trash in the restaurant; and as I watched, my heart sank.  She was desperate and hungry.

Usually, I ignore transient people on the streets; but tonight, sitting right in front of me was a person opening the trash to look for scraps of food.  Though I wanted to ignore her I could not.  It was extremely challenging to enjoy eating my Whopper while watching her dig through the trash bin.  It was getting quite uncomfortable.  My heart was sinking.  I also couldn’t ignore what I was feeling. Sadness and sympathy.  I hadn’t felt this way in a while. Normally, I would assume store policy would prohibit people from coming in to search the trash bins. Store was likely under-staffed.

I was also feeling a heavy sense of guilt weighing down on my heart. Part of this guilt was due to some of my dark and uncompassionate thoughts.  “Why did I have come into this burger joint tonight?  Why couldn’t it have been on another night? Why did I have to sit myself down here in this spot.”  I had chosen this spot because I wanted some privacy.

I had ordered two burgers.  One was in my hand; and the other was still in the bag—still unwrapped and untouched.  I thought for a moment, “I should give her one of mine. I really should. I had two anyway.”  

My other thought was, “I’m still hungry myself too.  I could just gulp it down quickly and walk out of here fast.  My mind and heart were battling between these two alternate thoughts. Something within me refused to follow through with this latter thought—on this evening anyway.

I stood up, walked up to her and said: “Ma’am, have my other burger in this bag.” I handed her the bag, then returned to my seat, and finished my burger. This discomforting feeling didn’t go away.  

She continued to rummage through the other trash bins in the restaurant.  A minute later, she returned and told me: “Thank you.”  I nodded back in acknowledgement.

After I did this, it felt a little better—but not much better.  I asked myself afterward, “Did I truly do this for her, or was it for myself?”  Maybe a bit of both.  What do I mean by, “for myself”? I discomfortable seeing her dig through the trash to look for scraps was unbearable.  I could get rid myself of this discomfort by simply giving her my burger. Instantly, my guilt would be gone. But that would be for my own sake. What about her? She still had a hungry tummy to fill or she’d be going to bed without dinner.

This lady was desperate–desperate enough to dig through the trash in the restaurant with the eyes of customers looking at her. She obviously had nothing to lose by doing this.  She could care less if others saw her digging through the litter. The person who was most self-conscious was probably myself—not her. I’m the one with the problem. The moral and ethical issue was duelling within me.

After I finished my burger, I was still hungry. I decided to walk up to the front to order a second one.  I still had a sense of guilt mixed with a sense of satisfaction of having done something good.  But was it really “good” or was it something any decent human being would have done?   I have a job that pays a reasonable salary.  Can’t complain.  She couldn’t afford a simple burger.  

After I placed my order for a second burger, this same lady came up to me and thanked me again a second time.  I asked her if she would like another burger.  She didn’t tell me either yes or no.  I would have given her another one if she said “Yes.”  I probably should have given her a second burger anyway—even without an affirmative “Yes.”

She began sharing with me that she was living in a hostel close by on $10 per night.  Then she pulled out some change and placed it on a counter-ledge next to me.  It couldn’t have been more than a dollar. Not sure why she did that.  Was she trying to pay me back a little something?  I certainly didn’t expect anything.  She then put her change back in her pocket and walked away.  

I admit it. It was an uncomfortable situation for me.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this brief interaction.  Not sure why she share this bit of herself with me.  Was she wanting to share with me more of her life story?  Or was she probing if I would be willing to give her some money?  I didn’t know.  I just had all kinds of questions but was afraid to ask further.

I was feeling a little too uncomfortable to know what to ask or do. My heart was preoccupied with this moral and ethical duel within myself. I feared more for myself than for her. I feared that I didn’t have enough compassion to bear the load required to love another human being.

Anyway, after picking up my second order, I decided to take it to-go in a bag. I wanted to eat in my car. I was parked on the 4th floor of the Johnson Street parking garage.  Weird thing to be eating a meal in a such sterile environment—facing the grey concrete walls of a parking garage. As I was chomping down on my burgers, I was running through some thoughts in my mind. 

“What was her past life like?  Was she always like this or did she once have a better life? Perhaps, she could be a divorced mother with kids who were sent to foster homes? How did she end up in such impoverished conditions ravaged with substance abuse?  What if she had lost a good job, had fallen on hard times, and had somehow gotten trapped in depression and mental illness?  Might she have been taken advantage of by crooked men who forced her into a state of dependency?  All these “What ifs” were running through my head.  And what if I were in her position or circumstance?  How would I feel?  And what would I to do?”

I also realized something else.  People who regularly donate their pocket change to others on the streets see them as brothers and sisters in need. They are actually far more compassionate than me.  They are far more willing to lend a helping hand. By their standards, I would consider myself a heartless and uncompassionate person. Such a weird thing to think about myself in this way.

This evening revealed something of myself.  I don’t feel enough compassionate for the poor and hungry. Others with more compassion are more willing to give. Why so? They might be people who knows what it feels like to have fallen into hard times.  At one point in their lives, they might have been in dire straits themselves and have received grace. This is why they know how to say, “Thank you and God bless.”  

I don’t feel enough compassionate for the poor and hungry.

I’ve been a poor student in my young bachelor days.  My life nowadays is too comfortable. Today, I don’t feel the compassion I used to feel.  Considering that I’m a Christian, isn’t a Christian supposed to be as compassionate as Jesus?  Yes, but…

I hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in a long time; but this wasn’t the first time I had seen people digging through the trash looking for scraps of food.  I had seen this almost every time I walk through downtown, but why today?

Days before this incident, I had been thinking to myself, that perhaps I should be giving more of my time and of myself to serve the poor in downtown.  Not sure why I’ve been having these thoughts.   Was God speaking to me through this event? Was God showing me that I ought to do something more for others?   Helping others in abject poverty has been a neglected part of my life for many years.  Was this just coincidence, or was God trying to tell to me something?

Seniors in poverty

17 Best Homeless Quotes on Pinterest | Helping others quotes, Homeless housing and Poverty quotes

Stealing and petty offenses are a no-no.  It’s the same, whether it’s here in Canada, the U.S. or in Japan.   In Japan, they are experiencing an increase in older people committing offences. It’s an elderly crime wave by grandpas and grandmas.  It is sad.

Here’s the irony.  These seniors want to go to jail. The reason: they are reaching pensionable age and running out of money. They are choosing to live in jail because it’s free. Free food. Free housing.

A rational senior might easily think: “Well, why not?  Better to live in the comforts of a jail than starve on the streets.” Sounds rational to me too.

One senior said, “I reached pension age and then I ran out of money. So it occurred to me – perhaps I could live for free if I lived in jail,” he says….”So I took a bicycle and rode it to the police station and told the guy there: ‘Look, I took this.’

This is sad. In traditional Asian-Japanese culture, the children will take care of the parents. They are three or even four generation households.  But when there is a break-down in families and in society, people get left behind.

Seniors behind bars in Japan

These seniors committing small petty offences do not intend to do any physical harm.  This BBC article: “Why Some Japanese pensioners want to go to jail” interviewed some seniors:

“Small, slender, and with a tendency to giggle, Toshio looks nothing like a habitual criminal, much less someone who’d threaten women with knives. But after he was released from his first sentence, that’s exactly what he did.

“I went to a park and just threatened them. I wasn’t intending to do any harm. I just showed the knife to them hoping one of them would call the police. One did.”

Altogether, Toshio has spent half of the last eight years in jail.

I ask him if he likes being in prison, and he points out an additional financial upside – his pension continues to be paid even while he’s inside.

“It’s not that I like it but I can stay there for free,” he says. “And when I get out I have saved some money. So it is not that painful.”

Japan is a law-abiding society.  Crime happens rarely in this Confucion-oriented country.  You can leave a phone or a wallet on a subway and likely, no one will steal it. They will return it to someone at the office for lost & found.  The BBC article stated:

“In 1997 this age group accounted for about one in 20 convictions but 20 years later the figure had grown to more than one in five – a rate that far outstrips the growth of the over-65s as a proportion of the population (though they now make up more than a quarter of the total).”

A confucianist culture like Japan would not dream of levying harsh punish upon their elders for this kind of crime.  Confucian stated:

The Duke of Sheh told Confucius: In my land, there are just men.

If a father steals a sheep, the son will testify against him.

Confucius said: The just men in my land are different from this.

The father conceals the wrongs of his son, and the son conceals the wrongs of his father.  This is justice.

https://quakergirl.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/jesus_helping_the_poor_jpg-magnum.jpgIn this Asian shame-based culture, the punishment for such a crime will not be huge.  The bigger shame in this for Japanese people will be the inability to support their own senior citizens.

The birthrate in Japan has declined such that the younger generation will not be able to support the public pension plans of the older generations.

It is already happening in South Korea. China will be in a similar situation in the very near future.  There is a shameful thing going on with Bucchus ladies (granny prostitution) in Asia and South Korea.  It is invisible and can exists in cultures where younger generations are supposed to take care of the older generations (read article here).

North America and Europe will also come to similar predicament. Is there anything else we can do to support our senior’s public pension plans?  Increase taxes? Not without a lot of push-back from our hard working tax-paying citizens.

homeless couple struggling with help signs, poverty sucks for street people in NYC, slow motion ...

If our birthrates do not increase, do we increase our immigration rates in order to sustain a steady base of tax contributors?  Here in Canada, we are already doing this.  Many countries are also doing the same.

Compassion and capitalism must go hand-in-hand in order for society to function well.  This is where the Church and Christians can make a difference.  We need not turn to socialism, as I said in my previous post on socialism.  It must not be an option.  As a society, we must take action to take care of our seniors, our mentally ill, and our vulnerable who need our care.

Secret of being content

Having experienced some of life’s difficult times in my last 25 or so years, I’ve learned some lessons of life the hard way. I have experienced heart-felt losses in my life. I have also learned to live life with less. When I look back, I was still satisfied with life even though it may have been dissatisfying.

I am still glad to learn some life-lessons along the way.  Sometimes, failure is the best way to learn. Mistakes that come our way can be good teachers if we stay humble, but it is impossible to learn if we are stubborn and prideful.

St. Paul the Apostle said in Philippians 4:12-13,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

When we lack things like the basic necessities of life, we learn to appreciate even what little we may have…like food, clothes, transportation, work, or a roof over our head. When I reflect to look upon my life today and see the small things, I thank God that he’s given me these things to enjoy, and also so that I may share them with others who have less.

It really is a blessing to be able to give to those who are in need. Giving can be easy for some, and hard for others, but it is something we can learn to do. It can also be a hard lesson to learn when we are in the middle of poverty but it depends on the attitude we carry throughout life.

God can empower us to live life to the fullest when we give to those with less.  May God  grant us wisdom to learn these. After all, you can do all thing through Christ who gives you strength.

Driscoll and Harris on Chan

Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris tagteam to inquire more on Francis Chan’s motivations for stepping down from Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA to L.A.  Chan says his desire is motivated by love to give and sanctification, which includes poverty, suffering, and simplicity. I get the sense he believes the church is not where it should be and he wants the church to move back to the core truths as found in Scripture.

… and more on Francis’ spirituality of suffering below. I haven’t heard this kind of message from any pulpit for a very very long time. Sounds like it’s a forgotten path of Jesus that we North American Christians ought to return to.