I wanted to share this person’s recent story because I think it is very relevant in how we treat each other when we are down on our luck. We must teach compassion not just in our schools, but also in our lives.
I will call this person Anna (not her real name), and give you a little background to start. Anna is a wife and mother of two kids, she is highly educated as is her spouse, but due to budget cuts at their jobs they have both been unemployed for more than one year now.
As with many people, they lived paycheck to paycheck, especially since they wanted their kids to have a good life. Unemployment ran out, savings ran out, and finally the bills started to pile up to the point where they gave in and applied for various forms of public assistance. This story is about their experience applying for help to pay their electric bill.
The location is not easy to find, and they are rushing to get there before their scheduled 10am appointment. They finally located street parking a block away from the office and they get place 10 minutes before their appointment. As they enter place, there are about six people waiting on uncomfortable chairs lined up against one wall, it is really obvious no one wants to be there. The walls are all painted yellow; there is a camera in one corner and a bulletproof window like the ones you find in gas stations. It is cheerless, sterile environment not designed to put you at ease but to humiliate. The only things on the wall are three signs: no cell phones usage, no public parking, and no public restroom; no, no, no. Feels like a prison waiting room, in fact it looks like one as well.
It turns out, that even though they have an “appointment”, it is really just first come first serve, so their 10am appointment was just for show. Inside the window where you have to sign and provide all the documents, there is a sign that says “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”, so that means you cannot complain.
Anna is forced to go pee in the bushes because there is no restroom, and they had been waiting for a while. When they are finally seen, there is no discretion, no warmth, the people there put your business out to everyone and they are very clinical in how they treat you, also, there is a lot more paperwork to be filled out in addition to what you are supposed to bring.
They eventually get escorted into the back office to hand in the piles of paperwork, and notice that inside where the employees are located, is a really nice, warm and vibrant office, but that is for the employees only, not for those who come looking for help and they only get a glimpse.
Eventually, they do get the help they need, but here is my point: what is wrong with putting people at ease in these stressful situations? What is wrong with comfortable chairs, a water cooler, and bathroom? What is wrong with apologizing that had to wait an hour past your scheduled appointment? What is wrong with treating people looking for help with dignity?
We as a society need to have compassion, we need to make undignified situations as dignified as possible, and we must not kick someone when they are down.
Dr Flavius A B Akerele III