So, I’m driving home for Christmas (do those words make you think of the song? yeah, me too) and I’m fiddling with my phone to find a song to play over the radio. I’m stopped at the traffic lights, and a scruffy homeless guy comes limping up, between the lines of traffic, shaking a can. Instinctively, I shake my head to indicate ‘no’, and then carry on fiddling.
The hypocrisy of the moment suddenly hits me.
See, I’m fiddling to find a track that I love by Stormzy. It’s called Blinded By Your Grace, Pt 2. He’s effectively thanking God for saving him from a potential life of crime. It’s a powerful song, especially from UK Grime royalty, and I was looking for a contemporary British feel for the start to my drive home for Christmas. You know, the time for giving, the time to care for one another. So, there I am prioritising ‘feeling’ Christmas rather than being it.
What a total wanker, I am.
I’m so confused by the hypocrisy of the moment, I even try to find some money in the car and call back to him, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to find the money before the lights turned green. Who am I kidding? What was my dumb performance all about? Just how utterly inauthentic can I be?
The lights turn green and I drive off saying to myself that it doesn’t matter, that he was probably putting on an act anyway, that he was probably part of some crime syndicate using immigrants and the homeless to bleed money out of kind hearts. The more decrepit they look, the better. All in all, I saved myself from being taken for a ride.
But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m a hypocrite, that I’m wanting to feel Christmas as a short term experience, not live the real message. I unplug my phone and turn the radio off in annoyance. I drive in silence thinking about what just happened.
How did it get so hard, so confusing, to do the right thing? How have my instincts been so trained to respond with indifference to homelessness? And how am I doing that when I’ve spent all week watching Channel 4 News’ excellent series on the growing homelessness crisis in the UK? In fact, why are my instincts to find blame in such people when I know full well that people are more at the mercy of their social circumstances than their individual decisions?
I don’t know the answers to all of those questions. All I know is that in the year of 2017 we in the UK somehow have a growing problem with homelessness. We should be ashamed of ourselves. And our instincts should be to help, to be part of the solution, not to instinctually say no and then try to experience love for our fellow citizens through some well-crafted track.
I drove back, found him and gave him some money. But that’s not the point. The situation, my reaction, and the way in which caring for one anther has become so complicated is simply unacceptable. 2018 has to be about change.
Pritpal S Tamber
I’m the CEO & Co-Founder of Bridging Health & Community (BH&C) and the Founder of the Creating Health Collaborative. Before all this, I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED, Medical Director of Map of Medicine, Editorial Director for Medicine at BioMed Central, the company that pioneered open access publishing, and an editor at the BMJ. I have an MBChB (a UK equivalent to an MD) from the University of Birmingham, UK. This is my personal blog. If you're interested in BH&C or the Collaborative, check out the BH&C website, including the updates, which you can receive by email. My speaking agent in the US is Executive Speakers Bureau; elsewhere I'm represented by London Speaker Bureau.