It Was Only A Few Steps…


While Matthew Was Walking Along

I just spent a week in San Francisco. It’s a beautiful and creative city and I enjoyed walking around and soaking in the energy. Like most large cities, not everyone is kind, not everyone is cared for and not everyone is looking toward a bright future.

Of all the things I saw, one of the memories that will remain with me is that of the homeless man who was holding a tattered sign.  A sign that all  of us have seen at some point and a few of us have psychologically held. The well-used sign said “Will Take Verbal Abuse For Spare Change”. The man did not appear mentally challenged as some homeless persons do. As people bustled by he would proclaim to no one in particular, “Give me your best shot, it’s fun for the entire family”.

As I walked by, I heard a young man behind me start to engage the homeless man and say horrible things. I turned around and started back toward the exchange and that’s when I saw that the young man was well dressed and well groomed and his attractive girlfriend was actually laughing at this man’s verbal onslaught.

It Took A Few Steps

As the young man saw me approaching he could clearly see the intense anger on my face and as he registered this, his current tirade of abuse began to trail off and his girlfriend actually shrank back a bit. The intriguing thing is that the young man was younger, bigger and healthier than I am. I don’t believe that he was physically intimidated. I think he became embarrassed and ashamed when someone paid attention to his bullying. The young man did give the homeless man some money (not that I feel that it was restitution for the actions) and then moved on.

Now, at the end of this story, we’re left with issues that can’t be resolved. We cannot make the homeless man wealthy, we cannot fix the young man’s abusive inclinations and we cannot correct the girlfriend’s ignorance about how people should be treated and what is actually funny versus that which is dark and evil.

What we can learn from this is that sometimes the only thing people need to do to stop evil is show up. I did not get into an altercation with the young man, I did not even speak a word and no one had my back. It was just me standing there that made the young man stop.

Where Were The Others?

Meanwhile a hundred other people walked by this scene and did not say or do anything. I’m compelled to ask why not? For a culture who worship the constant barrage of hero movies and TV shows, why did people walk by this scene? It makes me deeply sorrowful for our future.

I don’t tell you this story to be self aggrandizing. I even thought about telling it from the third person, because I believe that I did the bare minimum of what any decent person should have done. This is not my first experience with this. There have been other instances where a man was abusing his wife and a mother her daughter and each instance, by simply walking toward the scene with the intent to intervene, the actions stopped. Now, they will begin again, but only when there isn’t someone around to stop it.

I tell the story in the hopes that just one other person will read it and when given the chance will also take a few simple steps toward evil and that evil will be made to move on. We all need to take a few more steps toward stopping evil.

Creative Commons Photo Attribution: Steve Crane via Flickr

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