The day is absolutely gorgeous. It’s end of June now, and the summer is finally here. There is not a single cloud in the sky; the Seattle skyline as seen from Kerry Park is now augmented with a clearly visible mount Rainier in the background, and every street is flooded with people who got out to enjoy the great weather, meet friends and just hang out outside.
And yet, there is something wrong with this picture. As people leave nearby movie theater in downtown Seattle after finishing watching a movie that unfolded the story centered around the importance of believing in the best in others, there is a guy sitting on the sideline of the road. He’s in his 30s, or maybe 40s, very thin, poorly but quite cleanly dressed. He’s wearing glasses. Before him lies a baseball cap with a few coins in it. In his hands, he holds a pice of cardboard that says: “That’s what invisible looks like”.
What’s the story of this man? Why is he asking for help? How badly does he need the money? Will he have a place to sleep at tonight? Does he have a job? a family? anyone who cares about him?
To tell the truth, we’ll probably never know. He’s not the only one out there either: if you go one block further, you’ll see another person like him, and then another, and another. Leave Seattle, and drive to the next city, you’ll see the same picture. Ditto for the next state. Cross the Pacific Ocean, and nothing will change. Drive across the U.S., cross the Atlantic, and again, nothing changes.
One might argue that this is just how the world’s always been. In fact, today it’s better that ever before: we have safety nets in place now, and we try to do our best. And this will be true. Maybe we are not yet rich enough as a society to take care of everyone. Or maybe some people are too difficult to deal with, and can’t help but blow up their lives again and again, and thus just require too many resources to take care of. Or, one can argue that even the most underprivileged people in the developed countries are often much better off than hundreds of millions in the poorest places of the world, and that’s where everyone should focus.
All of this might be true. And yet, this isn’t about that. It is about that cardboard in the hands of the man. “That’s what invisible looks like”. This simple phrase is as heart-breaking, as it is true. Sure, some people might give him a couple bucks, or somebody kind enough might buy him some food. But that is probably it, and so this man is still largely ignored, remaining on the sidelines of this nice, warm and cloudless summer day.
Nobody has the resources or emotional capacity to help everyone, and for most people, this is too much of a weight to carry anyway. Still, as a society, we are rich as never before today, and this is especially true for the developed world. That’s why, every time we decide to dismantle any part of the safety net to drive our costs down, it is so crucial to stop and think about what we are doing. To think if those changes will contribute to the number of invisible people we pass by on the streets. And if it will, to ask ourselves whether it is truly worth it.
After all, we have one too many invisible people already.