Words and Civilisation: “I don’t want to get involved”

A friend and I were walking down the street and saw a woman sitting on a doorstep, crying her eyes out.  “Don’t get involved,” said my friend, picking up the pace.  A few steps further, I let my friend go on without me.  I felt I had to turn back, or I could not have lived with myself.

The woman on the doorstep was drunk.  She said she was a recovering alcoholic, and had been sober for fifteen years – until today.  Today, however, her sister (and only relative) had died trying to give birth to a baby.  The woman sobbed, and I saw three or four empty beer cans on the pavement, next to her.  Nothing I could say or do would ever make a difference or alleviate her truly harrowing sense of loss.  She had spent everything she had on alcohol and, since she declined my offer of money, I bought a couple of ready-to-microwave meals from the corner shop, and started walking her home.  On the next street, we bumped into a neighbour of hers who gently took her by the arm, and led her the rest of the way.

I did not try and help that woman for any noble reasons.  I just realised that if I did not, then I could not have looked at myself in the mirror again.  Selfish, really, if you think of it.  As for getting involved, it was not about getting involved.  I was involved by the very fact that I saw that woman sitting there, crying her heart out.

Time and again, I hear people say, “I don’t want to get involved” or “I’m not taking sides”.  Why this state of non-committed neutrality? Are they not a part of this world? Are they extra-terrestrials?

I can sense the usual hoard of devil’s advocates falling over one-another with objections and spouting “things aren’t always black and white” platitudes.  Yes.  There are times when it is not wise or safe to get involved in a situation.  The list of examples is too long to write out.  However, it is also true that, in many cases, this “not getting involved” is not so much a sign of dignity but of fear.  Actually, “fear” is too politically correct, nowadays.  Let us just call it what it really is – cowardice.

We live in a society in which, we are striving to be so tolerant of differences, in which we are so terrified of uttering any opinion that might come across as judgemental, that I sometimes wonder if we have lost track of what is Right and Wrong.

My favourite Shakespearean quotation is by Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”  I believe that to be true to a great extent.  Even so, there are areas, off-limits, where the absolutes of Right and Wrong do apply.  I feel that it is wrong willfully to harm another human being, or an animal, or nature.  That does not mean that the perpetrator should not be understood or forgiven, but that the act per se is unquestionably wrong.

I also believe that you should be true to yourself, and that that involves standing up for what you believe is right.  Every time you look away, pretending something does not concern you, you lose a piece of your humanity.  If circumstances are such that all you can do is look away then, at least, be truthful to yourself by admitting that that is what you are doing.

If your colleague is being bullied by the boss, or one of your friends has wronged another, and you take the attitude that you “don’t want to get involved”, then I can only hope that you may, someday, come to understand how it feels to be vulnerable, isolated and with nobody to back you.

Once again, I need to clarify this.  We are all humans, flawed, insecure, etc.  I am not advocating throwing yourself headlong into a destructive situation, at genuine peril to yourself.  Nor am I suggesting that you put your job on the line for the sake of a colleague.  However, there are ways of giving support without placing yourself at risk.  If you cannot or will not jeopardise your position publicly then, at least, you can do so privately.  “I’m sorry, I can’t support you openly but I am on your side” will often be like a drop of water on parched land to a person who feels wronged.  A small act of kindness that will tell him or her that he or she is not completely alone.

Hundreds of idealistic undergraduates will quote John Donne’s lines, “No man is an island…”

Of course you’re involved.  Or are you a day tripper in this life? I guess what it comes down to, is how you want to feel about yourself when you look in the mirror.

© Scribe Doll

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10 Responses to Words and Civilisation: “I don’t want to get involved”

  1. polonation says:

    Very Inspirational, thank you!

  2. CiP says:

    I agree, too often I am a coward or take the easy option when doing so goes against the grains of what I believe to be my moral fibre… strive to improve!

  3. Very well said, I know I don’t always comment, but I love your writing! You’ve always got something profound and relevant to say xxx

  4. Really great points well made, I know I don’t always comment, but I love your writing, really enjoy reading it when I get notified! xxx

  5. Francesca says:

    Let me add how easy it is nowdays to get involved at a distance: if you’re a facebook user for example, you just click on ‘I like’ or you you can share any kind of news you may find important or interested. We are scandalized for wars, tortures, environmental disasters, and we often subscribe against something. So, it’s so EASY to get involved at a distance, comfortably sitted in front of our computer sipping out tea or coffee. It takes few minutes and you feel you’re such a good person, even politically involved as you lay the shame on the others unfairness and crimes all over the world (yes, that’s part of being global, isn’t it?) . But of many of us would have come back and spend minutes listening to a stranger’s sorrows? I’m more of the type 1 I’m afraid, leaving to my sunny or cloudy mood to decide what to do and if to stop or go away. But I’m working on it!

  6. denizsezgun says:

    In my country when you get involved in a wife-husband fight in public, you mostly receive a hit from the husband as well, yet I always felt ready to be hit by mistake or on purpose if my involving will let the wife free and save herself even for a while.
    The same happens when you get involved to stop a father’s violence to his child.
    But who cares, I can’t walk away while my eyes see and my heart tastes all the pain at that moment.
    It does bring trouble to me but at least I cause on people such a sense that they are not alone and that they can’t simply hurt anyone phsycally this way…

    I loved your posts by the way… I can’t leave a comment to all, but please know that you’ve got a regular reader from Turkey!!

  7. For those of us who are shy, it’s hard to deal with other people’s problems the way we should. We have a natural tendency to “shy away” from involvement not because we don’t feel adequate empathy, but just because we’re possibly embarrassed by our own emotions and don’t know therefore how to deal with other people’s. The best answer I have for this situation is to try to think not about myself and how I feel, but about what the other person feels. This can make you in turn more sensitive to the occasions when you’re about to get suckered, rather than less sensitive, and you can hope at least to have the best of both worlds: helping people who want help from you and avoiding those who are trying to take advantage of you. This is the best answer I have.

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