Sunday, October 18, 2009

We All Have The Potential to be Josh

Ank and I went to see the W-League Newcastle Jets play their first home game of the season today. Being a team that I follow meant a disappointing loss (I also follow the men's Newcastle Jets and West Ham United). I quite liked how Ank turned to me during the game and said: "Why do we always go for teams that lose?". I was going to write today about that, the pathos of following teams such as Newcastle Jets and West Ham, but it's something we saw leaving the game that got me thinking.

On the way out, we saw a kid - somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13 - standing there looking quite distressed and crying. Immediately, my heart sank and I put myself in his shoes. I got a little anxious and concerned for the little guy. I said to Ank: "Maybe he's lost his mum". As we walked passed I couldn't help but keep looking over at him, wondering if I should stop and see if he was okay and try and help him out.

He continued on towards the exit blubbering "I'm going home!". He was behind us the whole way to the gates where he was caught up to by the group of kids who were obviously with him for the day (similar ages, mostly girls). As he saw them he cried "No! Leave me alone! I'm going home!" to which his group of friends said: "We're sorry, Josh. We're sorry we were mean to you" and so on. At that point Ank and I had continued on our own way home.

We discussed the matter for some of the walk home and I told Ank about how every time I see stuff like that I get a pang of sadness. Here's Josh, the socially retarded kid who just doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the group. Ank reassured me he would probably hit high school, become a goth and come in to his own. True, and we can only hope. But still, the trauma that Josh and other kids that get picked on (for what ever reason) can be quite traumatic. The thing is, I'm probably too empathetic.

I wasn't picked on much as a kid (I am socially retarded, but like Dexter, I was able to hide it well enough to avoid any major attention), nor was I one of the kids that did the picking. But from a young age I seemed to have had this sense of empathy and had that sadness whenever I saw an injustice occur. I distinctly remember the one time when I was involved in 'an incident' and it has stayed with me to this day.

In primary school (about year 1 or 2), I somehow found myself in a group of kids who were on a mission to burst open the cubicle doors and expose some kid who was in there. Even now I am not sure why this was a pass time for some kids who took joy out of embarrassing other kids while they were taking a dump. 20-odd years on and I still feel uncomfortable taking a 'number 2' in a public toilet.

At any rate, I wasn't the instigator of this little event, I was one of "the pack". So, the ringleader of the group threw open the door and all I saw was this other kid, sitting on the toilet, screaming, embarrassed and wanting the world to swallow him up. The other kids were pointing and laughing. All I could do was stand there, shocked, thinking: "that could be me". I didn't hang around those kids anymore.

The thing is: why did I, a 7 or 8 year old, feel such empathy for this kid I didn't know? Is empathy taught, or learned? I remember my parents always teaching me to "respect" other people. But how do you learn the meaning of respect? There are so many interpretations of the word. I was (half)raised a Catholic and the "do unto others as you would have done unto you" rhetoric had always stuck with me. But that's taught to all Catholics (and other kids in varying ways) so it's not like it's a concept that was only available to me. (Religion has shown a great deal of difference between what is taught and what is done)

I guess it's one of those nature vs. nurture things. If it is a nature thing, then what is the point? Could I spend my whole life being concerned for the welfare of complete strangers only to have kids that are little shits that burst into cubicles while other kids are taking a crap? Or take part in taking the piss out of the "weak kid" in the group (pack)? I certainly hope not. I hope that my kids (whenever I have them) will have that ability to understand what someone else is going through and have sympathy or empathy with that person. Sure, it may mean that they end up going through life being conscious that they're living in a society that is full of injustices and blatantly crushes the self-confidence of individuals who "don't fit in" but: butterfly wings and all that shit, right?

Anyway, that kid we burst in on that day, where ever you are: I'm sincerely sorry about that day circa 1987. I hope you have some sort of faith in humanity still and can use public lavatories without fear.

And to those other kids who did that: I hope you felt like a piece of shit for doing it too. If not, I'm sure you're probably watching Rugby League somewhere.

Ultimately, we all have the potential to be Josh. Every time you see someone in distress just imagine: that could be me.

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