Some time ago, on my way back from work, a traffic light boy came to my car begging for a “food money”. Most of the boys at this traffic light know me because I usually give them snacks. This boy was one of them. I did not have any snacks that day, and I told him so. He pleaded with me, telling me that he was “well hungry” as he had not eaten in 2 days. I told him that I too was hungry because I had not eaten that day. The boy’s eyes flashed with anger, but he responded quietly with these words: “Miss, mi grateful when yu gi mi the food but all like yu if yu hungry is because yu choose nuh fi eat. Mi no have no choice because mi have nutten fi eat. So nuh tell mi bout yu hungry too because is not di same ting.”
I was overcome by shame at the truth he so eloquently pointed out, and apologised immediately. He accepted my apology, wished me a “drive safe” and moved on. As the traffic light changed, so had my opinion of this youth. I drove away reflecting on the many lessons to be learned from this encounter.
One lesson was not to judge based on appearances. This merino-clad boy’s scarred face, and older-than-his-years eyes clearly indicated a life of hardship. He probably had not finished school. The only escape he had from the harsh reality of his life was likely at the end of a spliff. Yet he was able to formulate an articulate, sensible response to my extremely insensitive comparison of my hunger from choice to his hunger from lack of food.
Another lesson was realizing the power of our choices to effect change in others. In the past, I had chosen to keep my car window down, look these boys in the eyes, and reason with them, even when I had no food or money to give. Perhaps this choice to respect his humanity helped this youth to demonstrate that very humanity by responding to my thoughtless comment with intelligent words, and respect, instead of profanity and violence. Imagine a world where this is the norm rather than the amazing exception.
We may not be able to feed every hungry belly we encounter, but we can feed every spirit by choosing to show respect and kindness to every human being that we interact with. All we need is the courage to change the things we can.