I just watched a mentally ill lady being beaten with a stick.
She was naked and high on glue. People were taking pictures and shouting insults at her.
We were having diner across Hua Lamphong Railway Station in Bangkok. One of my friends said that it was pointless to act, because there are so many of these instances; “The system is immense”.
But what is the system? The police were not threatening our families if we helped her. There wasn’t some high frequency wave turning us into zombies and making us act this way.
We are the system.
Of course, this has been said many times before, by people who are much smarter and better informed than I am. But I’ll say it anyway, because today was the first moment I really understood those words.
There is a difference between understanding something, and really feeling it to be true. Today I understood that we are the system. I don’t remember where I read it, but this came to mind a few hours after the incident: ‘Always remember they are few and we are many.’
A system is only as strong as its following.
At a restaurant on the side of the street, my friends told me to stay seated: “Never get involved. People have gone to prison for less over here”. Then the excuses started: “It happens so often.” “We are just guests in this country.”
I also realized something else that moment. Whenever in doubt or pressured, just take a step back and listen to your inner voice. Listen to what your soul, your humanity – that thing we all share – wants to do.
I didn’t give her all my money. I didn’t take her to the hospital. I didn’t even jump up when she was beaten with a long stick, the mark still visible on her side 10 minutes later. I only got up later to give her some clothes to wear.
She didn’t put them on and I didn’t make her, but we shared a moment of humanity when she looked into my eyes and I touched her arm. She nodded; a thank you, maybe? Maybe it was just a tick from the glue addiction that fried her brain.
It probably was more important for me to do something, rather than that something be anything that really helped her. But the tension vaporised, people stopped taking pictures of her and went on with their business. Letting her be, giving her space to sit there on the street that is her home.
When I walked away, I held my tears back. My friends couldn’t look at me when I returned to the table. The kind waitress said that it was a mistake, what I did. Then the talking began over how big the system was and that I didn’t change a thing.
And you know, that, right there is the system. People pressuring each other to conform to a standard, no matter how wrong that might be.
But I learned a lot today. I learned that you indeed always have a choice to make (another sentence I read somewhere). It didn’t matter if it was for my soul, hers, or both; at the end of the day there is right or wrong, and doing a kind thing when 50 people are doing nothing – or a wrong thing – matters. If this is crazy, please hand me the glue.