so this week was rather eventful for me, all stemming from a 2 minute incident at 12:45pm on Wednesday.
Basically (to make a long story short) I witnessed an altercation between a young man (18ish?) and an older man (mid 70’s?) outside the front of my house. I didn’t see what started it (although I later discovered the young man had asked the older man for money), but I did hear them swearing and yelling at each other before they began fighting, and watched from my window as the younger man picked up our wheelie bin and brought it crashing down on the old man’s head before being chased away by the older man.
I won’t go into the ensuing details of police reports and investigations. Suffice to say I was the only witness to the event, so I was quite popular with the boys in blue for a couple of days. : D What strikes me most as I replay the whole situation is how this kind of thing happens. What could possibly have transpired for an exchange between two complete strangers to escalate to the point it did?
Let me start with the older man. It was his angry voice I heard first, and believe me, he was giving at least as good as he got. The only reason I can think of for him to react so angrily and aggressively was fear. He wasn’t exactly a frail old man, but I imagine he wasn’t in the prime of his life. To have a young guy come and ask you for money (I don’t know how that happened, whether he demanded it forcefully, or just requested it) is confronting, particularly if you feel threatened. The second you feel threatened or fearful, you feel defensive, and react defensively. I think the likelihood is that his defensive reaction was offense.
Then there’s the younger man. Obviously I don’t know his situation, but I do know that this occurred just 20 metres from a piece of graffiti that reads (somewhat like a disclaimer), “If youth allowance wasn’t 52% of the poverty line, I wouldn’t have to steal.” Teasing out the issues involved in that sentence alone could take days (eg/ why write that unless you are genuinely apologetic?). But clearly this kid is not alone in his desperation for that which most of us take for granted – a means to fulfill our most basic needs. No-one begs for money as an entrepreneurial venture. Maybe I’m assuming too much about a situation I barely know anything about, but it makes me feel at least as much sympathy for this kid as for the old man, both caught up in a society of fear. That fear alienates that kid, and it only perpetuates a system of inequality and alienation.
And then there’s me: why didn’t I go and put myself in the situation? Why did I watch it escalate to its conclusion from the safety of my darkened window? Well the answer to that is fear too. Not for my own safety – goodness knows my instinctive reaction to things like this is to act without thinking and jump in aggressively (demonstrated not once, not twice, but thrice) – but for my family. To intervene, I thought, would be to invite the wrath of the young man upon my house; and that meant my family. I still don’t know what to make of that, whether I did the right thing or not. But I acted out of fear, and that alone is, at the very least, sad.
I don’t know what to do about it, I just keep looking at this whole incident and thinking how it’s just a tiny, tiny microcosm of the sadness that is allowed to go on in our society, perpetuated by “a current affair” and our pm and others. I don’t even know how to end this post. I’ll pray for them.