This Wednesday after school, I decided to try a different bus, as the one I usually took was unusually packed the day before. Little did I know that the new one was even more crowded, and a lot of squeezing and pushing was involved when all of us students tried to enter it all at once. It reminded me of a scene that I had seen the week before, in a documentary on India. The camera was following a dabbawala, which is a person that delivers lunches, as he tried to mount a door-less train. The shot followed him as he aggressively pushed himself into the train, while carrying about 60 kg worth of lunch bags. Watching countless Indians shove each other around in such a dusty, stiffed environment gave me an uncomfortable feeling. It left me the impression of an uncivilized society behaving in a similar manner.
But why did I not feel the same way towards my own bus experience? Yes, I hated the feeling of being nudged by a dozen forceful limbs, yet that I was as far as my disdain went. I did not think of the students that were pushing me as uncivilized, and I was not left with an uneasy afterthought.
The differences in these two situations only go as far as the physical features. My bus in Winnipeg advanced smoothly on a cement road, halting in front of many eager students shuffling in their winter boots. The train in India trudged wearingly along the tracks, amidst the chaos of the sweltering crowd on the station. The people entering my bus wore clothes free of scratches and stains, while the masses on the train bore disheveled clothing stained with dirt and sweat. However, at the end of it all, we all had the same goal in mind, and that was to board the vehicle on time.
My contrasting reactions toward these two situations portray the sad reality of the fortunate society. It might not apply to every first world-er, but I’m certain most of us would resignedly admit to the unwanted truth… And that is that we deem ourselves as the more civilized society. More refined, polished, humane. We eat with utensils, they eat with their hands. We have a running toilet, they have a hole in the ground. We shower every two days, they shower every two weeks. We’re just simply cleaner and better kept.
That is true. But that doesn’t mean the less fortunate societies are less educated, less cultured. Most may not know how to find an adjacent angle of a right triangle, but their minds have cultivated the seeds of their suffering and growth. While we are blindly guided by a fluorescent appetite for the shallow, they follow the scarce hope lying in the rubble of defeat. We are both mindfully receptive, just in different ways. We are both educated, cultured, just in different ways.
There is no right or wrong way, yet the prejudices sunk into the soil of our communities make it seem like there is. I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t be overcome with any feeling of hostility or slight aversion the next time I spot a homeless person on the street. It’s hard to be completely convinced of the misunderstanding that shapes the portrait of our humanity. Yet it should be a universal fact that all of us humans are both wild and sensitive, savage and cultured. Simply one of the contrasting traits stands out more to our stereotyped eyes.