Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Rank Indifference

An Old Man.

Yesterday, I worked a night shift.  As per usual, I boarded a bus for the forty minute journey from the town in which I live, to the city in which I work.  The next part of my journey involves a ten minute taxi ride to my place of employment.

Prior to this second part, I usually enjoy my last fix of nicotine - and I make no apologies for being a smoker - as I stand (like a leper) in the street.

As I stood there, I became aware of a man some ten yards away, standing by and holding on to the guard rails (on the road side) that straddle the entire street - bar a pedestrian crossing - which lies between two bus stations.  This road also includes a taxi rank of which there are two points of access.  It is a busy road.

The man appeared to be talking to passers by who just ignored him.  As I neared him on my approach to the taxi rank, I became aware that he was saying "Excuse me.  Can you help me?"

He was a strapping fellow, over six feet tall; solid, but appropriate for his height.  Dress wise, he was ill-equipped for the presenting weather; wearing uppermost, just a T shirt on that cold, wet and windy night.  His right shoe was off, so on that side he stood barefoot on the ground.  He had also been incontinent and his jogging bottoms were wet and saggy.  He had a walking stick and he was old.  I am not skilled at judging ages, but would say, early to mid seventies.

Only when I was very close to him, did it became obvious that there was alcohol on his breath, but the folk who were ignoring his pleas would not be aware of this.  However, he was neither inebriated nor tipsy; he was fully coherent; he was old, cold, wet and vulnerable and was politely asking for help.

I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he just wanted to go home as he felt he might die, stuck where he was.  He told me that no taxi would entertain him as he had been incontinent.

Mindful now that I needed to set off to work - or be late, I told him I would ask the taxi driver to phone the police who could come and help him.  The taxi driver told me that the old man had already been 'thrown out' of one taxi for peeing on the seat and that he wouldn't contact the police.  I informed the driver that I was not prepared to abandon the old man and got out of the taxi and went back to him.

I offered to assist him to walk to one of the many empty seats in the bus station and I then would go into a shop and ask them to phone the police.  He attempted to walk, but cold and tired, he couldn't get himself moving.  I told him I would have to leave him for a while, while I attempted to find help.

I entered a major national department store and told the security guard of the problem and requested he phone the police.  He informed that it was not in his remit, so he couldn't do it (phone) as the problem was outside of the store.  After much badgering, he agreed to come out and see the old man.

The old mans wet jogging bottoms had by this time, fallen down, leaving him fully exposed.  Not a soul had offered assistance and the good people of the world were jeering at him, shouting "Pull your trousers up, you dirty old git!"

I attempted to pull the old mans trousers up - but to no avail as they had partially slipped under his feet, which he couldn't lift.  I asked the guard to help, but was met by the response of "I'm not touching him!"  The reason, I presume, to be the pee.

I implored him to contact the police.  He contacted his 'control' requesting that they send a private hire cab and stated that if the driver refused to take him, he would then call the police.

The cab arrive some ten minutes later and in that ten minute period, not one good citizen would help me pull the old fella's trousers up.  They had time however, to stand round in unconcerned little groups, uttering variations on the "Pull your trousers up!" theme.

The taxi driver agreed to take him, and after I had pleaded with him, he assisted me to walk the old fella to the cab as I could not manage alone.  So the old man - with his trousers still down - was finally going home.  I then took a taxi to work.

In today's Elf'n'Safety world, I should have carried out a mental risk assessment of every action I took - but I am pleased I didn't, or I would have thought of me first.

It appears to me, that in this risk assessment/risk aversion society that we now live in, we are losing our compassion, and becoming selfish and indifferent to the needs of others; we are beginning to lose our humanity.

What concerns me more is that, for that brief moment when I first sat in a taxi, I was more concerned about me and me being late for work, and thus was prepared to abandon that old man and attempt to pass the responsibility onto someone else.  That does really worry me.

Are we slowing becoming an uncaring, selfish society - or are we nearly there already?  What do you think?

Ann :o[


Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,

It was a noble act, and like the original good samaritan will be remembered.

I think that you are being a bit hard on the General Public. Some will have been callous and uncaring, some will have been relieved that someone was willing to get involved, some would have been afraid.

You, and to a lesser extent all of us in the health care professions, are used to dealing with confused elderly, strangers with physical and psychological abnormalities, the bottoms and genitalia of strangers.

To most of the public these are strange and alien experiences that confront them with their own darkest fears and taboos. Some will be grateful that you were there to help, certainly the Old Man would be, though because of his public shame may not have said so at the time. I am glad that you helped, it will have restored someones faith in humanity.

Best Wishes

Dr Phil

HyperCRYPTICal said...

Hi Dr Phil,

I do hope that you are right in that I am being a bit hard on the General Public - for that would mean there is hope for us yet.

The bus station in question is a place where 'beggars' regularly ply their trade and also (but much later in the night) drunks abound.
That said,(to me), it was obvious that the old man was niether. I also believe that his stature and dress altered the publics perception of him; for he was not what we typically believe an old man to look like, ie, stooped, frail, suited and flat capped.

Furthermore, the taxi drivers were aware of his plight - and chose to do nothing. I can understand their reluctance to take him home - wet seat means taxi off the road and loss of income - but they were happy to observe his plight after dumping him on the road side of a barrier. What would have stirred them into action; when he finally collapsed, perhaps?

Wrongly or rightly, I do believe we are heading towards a "It's not my problem" society - and to me, this just illustrated it. I do hope I am wrong!


Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,

I have posted a more positive story on my blog of altruistic behaviour, it restored my faith a little. People will often behave unexpectedly, sometimes unexpectedly nobly.

Best Wishes

Dr Phil