I am profoundly struck by Pope Francis’ recent remarks, “Young people at the moment are in crisis. We have all become accustomed to this disposable culture. We do the same thing with the elderly…they are afflicted by a culture where everything is disposable. We have to stop this habit of throwing things away. We need a culture of inclusion.”
Have we all, young and old, become an “i-generation” that is focused primarily on disposing of everything easily?
Let’s think about things that are disposable: razorblades, diapers, tires. Yes, they are easy to throw away and that is convenient. But, where do they go when they’ve been disposed of? I mean, it all goes somewhere, right? One of the many things I love about Switzerland, they make it hard and expensive for you to dispose of “trash.” Well done.
As disturbing as our “I have to dispose of this thing easily” fixation is, the extension of this desire to toss that which is not immediately necessary is truly shocking: people are also disposable.
I get in a fight with someone? I delete them from my FB page, Twitter followers, contact list. I’m annoyed with another person? I ignore phone calls and emails. I am having a hard time, so I don’t ask a follow-up to the answer, “I’m alright, I guess.” I’m busily running to work? I cut through a crowd of people like a knife through butter…who cares if I ran into a guy with a broken arm. He’ll survive.
Because people are disposable. Their feelings, their pursuits of happiness, their future plans…their very lives. Look at a newspaper. In today’s newspaper in Zürich: a 3-year old was shot by the Mafia in Rome, a plane full of human beings disappeared in thin air, Ukrainians are fighting for their very lives, and five other awful stories revolving around human suffering as the world watches.
It all points to a bigger issue – one that is truly terrifying in 2014 (we should be well-educated, well-aware) – we are disposing of other people. It’s medieval, a human as a pawn to get me what I want or as a shield to protect me from something that’s scaring or attacking me. That chess piece? is a person – someone’s son or daughter. Let that sink in.
I used to have a weekly visit with a homeless man that lived in under a bridge in Luzern. I called him “Herbert” because I never could get him to clearly state his name and it was one of those “Shit, it’s been months now and I’m too embarrassed to ask him again” scenarios. 8 times out of 10, Herbert was asleep or passed out, but I’d always leave him a coffee and croissant. When he was awake or semi-sober, he called me his Engeli. I think “Herbert” is in my book, by the way. Anyway, he disappeared one day. After a year under the same bridge, living on the same bench. I think he must have felt disposable, but he wasn’t disposable to me. That was 3 years ago and I still think of Herbert at least three times a week.
It’s inhumane to think of another person’s life like we think of a piece of trash or to call someone’s death “collateral damage.” It is a slippery slope between the decision to ignore a person’s suffering and the decision to disregard that person’s life entirely.
What if the person you’re ignoring could be made better by one chat over coffee? What if the iPhone you just threw away could be refurbished and sent to a small village in Africa? Is that a huge imposition? What if a weekly “hello” to a homeless man ends up being the last time someone said “hello” to him? Still think it’s okay to consider another person as “disposable” or have I convinced you that people and things are not disposable yet?
It’s not a Christian or Jewish or gay or straight or black or white issue to me. It’s a humanitarian one. People are not disposable and neither are razorblades or iPhones or books. Anything that has been created is a part of creation and has a space on this Earth. As the Pope said, we must start to reflect on and acknowledge the intrinsic value of creation. Maybe that’s a start.