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They say there’s no good sitting on the couch doing nothing. So I find myself sitting on the couch writing this weekend post for you all. In a world full of noisy and non-stop social media, horrific violence and terrifying social problems that seem so big that we can’t even engage with them, I am choosing to start small.
A little while ago, as I walked to meet a friend for coffee, a man across the road fell to the ground. He was with a woman, and she struggled to help him up. I ran to them, realised he didn’t need an ambulance, so I ran to get ice to stop his nose bleeding. A few things happened in this scenario that I’d like to reflect on…
1. Life got in the way: As is so common, a man’s life went from pleasant and enjoyable, walking along on a beautiful sunny morning to having everything flipped on its head (quite literally).
2. The person closest to the problem didn’t know the way forward: The person he was with was so shocked and shaken by what was unfolding in front of her that she couldn’t determine the next steps.
3. Most people kept walking: I don’t say this to elevate myself to some high and mighty position. Most people are unlikely to help in an emergency, and I have some experience in these situations. This tendency for people to remove themselves from a crisis is why people skilled in first aid delegate tasks to individuals (i.e. directing one person to call an ambulance, one to get a towel etc. by pointing or making direct eye contact with that person).
4. The care he needed wasn’t that complicated: It looked BAD when I first walked over. He was lying on the ground, blood gushing from his nose. I thought he was having a heart attack at first. Once we had assessed the situation and established what his real needs were (his leg had given way and he just needed the blood from his nose to stop), it’s wasn’t that hard to meet those requirements.
5. His problem doesn’t magically go away after I walk away: I helped resolve his EMERGENCY. What I didn’t do, however, was monitor him for 24-72 hours after for signs of a concussion (I did, however, make sure the lady he was with would be doing that). I didn’t give him pain relief when, in three hours time, his head feels like it is splitting open from the pain. I treated his immediate needs and left him in the care of someone else.
Why am I talking about this? Well, asides from the little bit of written therapy I’ve just benefited from by recounting that story, the above four points are pretty relevant to broader world issues. Most of the time, people are thrown into crisis, they don’t go their willingly (think: refugees coming from a war zone). Those people are often not equipped or ready to help themselves, and sometimes even those that care for them don’t have the right tools or approaches to help fully (think: governments occupied with winning the war). If you see suffering from a distance to your own experience, you may feel compassion but you are very unlikely to engage to help (think: when you keep scrolling through the newsfeed without stopping to watch the full video of a humanitarian crisis expose). Despite how overwhelming everything might feel, sometimes making a difference to a persons suffering isn’t complicated and can be achieved quite easily (think: start ups that think of clever solutions to help make people more comfortable in refugee camps).
Lastly, we need to position ourselves on the continuum of help. Are you helping someone leave their emergency? Are you helping someone establish comfort in the mid-way point? Are you helping someone find their feet after they’ve been settled somewhere (think: deciding to focus your work on educating children who have missed years of schooling because they were in refugee camps, or ensuring people have thick warm coats for travel when they are leaving their cities/homes in crisis)?
Let’s start small but getting into conversation, and we’ll build up from there.