Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how people live as citizens/subjects/permanent residents/short-term visa holders in a given place.
Barring any unforeseen changes, I will be living in London for the next four-and-a-half years. I want to feel as if this is my home. With feeling comes action. I should act like this is my home.
As I was running through the local park yesterday I saw a child being let through some fencing by its mother. The fencing had been erected to prevent folk from trampling on a bit of patchy earth that had been recently re-seeded. I said under my breath, "there's a reason for that fencing," as I jogged along. Would I have said anything ALOUD if I were a subject of this country? No, probably I wouldn't have. And, neither would most British people.
I remember once when I was visiting SW Germany during a break from college with a friend an elderly woman berated me for having thrown away a bit food. Never mind that the food in question was a soggy bit of bread with herring that had fallen apart in my hand and was now neither appealing nor easy to eat. This was in 1994; she looked to be in her mid-to-late 80s. I think now of what she must have lived through: two world wars, massive inflation and deprivation, and, ultimately, the division of her country. How thoughtless must I have appeared to her for throwing decent food in the garbage?
I see things that don't gibe with me here all the time. Would I really ever say anything to the people who litter in the park, bottles and food waste left on the grass after they get up to leave? Would I tell that guy who, crowded bus or no, puts his shoe up on the seat next to him as he rides into town to keep his feet planted firmly on the floor? Did I "police" where I lived back home? I didn't really, no. Well, if you count continually making my presence known to the marginally aggressive, homeless woman who camped in our back garden from time to time, then yes. She couldn't take my nosing around her territory, and, thankfully, she eventually moved a few blocks away. However, that wasn't fixing the problem so much as displacing it. I think of the man who died during the recent attacks here in London. He was attempting to put out a fire set in a bin by some youths, and, while doing so, gave those brats a piece of his mind. It was his neighborhood they were messing with and he didn't like it. They responded by beating him into a coma. He died shortly thereafter.
This horrible tragedy reminds me of the story a friend of mine here has recounted to me on numerous occasions. I've heard it enough times to wonder if it's not an Urban Legend. It's a cautionary tale of how another man stood up for what was right, and, for his trouble, was knifed in the process. This man and his girlfriend were riding a bus somewhere in London when some young men began throwing bits of either candy or crisps at the girlfriend. Valiantly, the man attempted to get the youths to stop, and was rewarded with a knife wound. I can't help but wonder how things would have gone down on the bus that day had everyone (assuming there were lots of riders) had, in unison, chanted those effers into submission with something like, "Put the crisps down!" or "Leave her alone!" I know that that sounds cheeky, but I'm being serious. Maybe the bullies would have been bullied into stopping?
There is certainly something to be said for standing by one's beliefs. However, if voicing them can have potentially devastating results, then, sadly, it may just be best to keep one's mouth shut, or to merely voice discontent under one's breath.
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