My First 4th of July
by Adam Goodwin | 2015 | Last Updated: April 1, 2015
My First 4th of July
It was after the fireworks in San Francisco, California. July 4, 2013. Just after 10:30pm.
I was at my first July 4th celebrations. It was a festive time. Americans were celebrating Independence Day. Tourists were experiencing how “things are done here.” People, young and old, consumed drinks. People, young and old, smoked (I’m sure they picked that green grass on their walk down to the wharf). During the fireworks, it seemed everyone was having a fantastic time.
After about 30 minutes of massive explosions of light and sounds. Explosions of laughter and jaws dropping in awe, it was just as suddenly over. Crowds quickly turned and began quickly walking toward exit streets to escape the jam of hundreds of thousands of people trying to leave the wharf and piers at once.
Police controlled traffic and pedestrians within a 10 block radius. Whistles blew. Brakes screeched. Parents asked children what they thought of their first firework show. Over-tired children cried when dad said no to stopping for an ice cream at ten o’clock at night.
Across the street, there was a sound that is common in cities. The sound of a population that calls inner cities home. So common, many people do not take notice even during their day-to-day bustling between work and making it home to watch their favorite TV show re-run.
A shopping cart.
A shopping cart pushed by a man. His clothes were white, yet black as they were covered in dirt, grime and oil. His face hadn’t been washed in what looked like weeks (yet it may have only been a day as I am in the privileged 5% of the world’s population who has access to daily showers so do not know what a face that has not been washed more than 2 days would look like). He smelled dirty. He smelled. His stuff smelled.
Then I saw the most remarkable thing. I smelled him. Then I watched him.
People nearly pushing him over to get past him. People pushing his shopping cart out of the way. Never once did he nor anyone say anything. The passerby, me, the police. No one. I barely even took notice.
I walked to the next intersection not really thinking anything of what I had just seen. Then I saw something even more remarkable. A car trying to ease past pedestrians. Someone touches the car by accident. World War 3 nearly starts. Words are exchanged, police come over to separate the driver and the dad protecting his 14 year old son who bumped into the car.
It was miraculous. A block ago, a man wearing a white shirt that was stained black with dirt was nearly pushed into traffic, along with his home and all his belongings, and no one said anything. The man didn’t. He has “learned his place in society.” I didn’t. I was in San Francisco for the first time and had just been to the first Fourth of July of my life. I was on such a high it took me a block to even realize what had happened. Others didn’t. A young child nearly had his head ripped off the next block for touching someone’s car.
Since when has society allowed us to kick someone’s shelter (ie, home), and that be okay? Yet we can accidentally bump into someone’s precious thing of convenience (that’s all a car is: convenience to get from point A to B when we want, for those that can afford it) and we are nearly the victim of a head smashing? This is backwards to me.
Then I thought, it’s funny how we would call the homeless man dirty, and the guy, driving the $100,000 car I’m sure he had waxed this morning, we would call him rich.
Based solely on possessions. He is rich. The homeless man is dirty because only one of his very few possessions is dirty. This is also backwards.
Yes, the homeless man’s only shirt is very dirty and very smelly. Yet, he is much wealthier in life and intelligence. He may be homeless and “poor” because of a lack of possessions. Yet, he knows things none of us will ever know and will never learn.
He witnesses greed. His stand-up comedy night is watching ‘rich’ people always buying things to try to make us happy. He sees us go to a fancy restaurant and spend $40 on a burger and beer, that just down the road goes for $8. Then it’s off to a friends house where along the way we buy a $200 bottle of wine to impress our friends. The taxi ride in between, we tell ourselves is an investment in our happiness and social health, instead of true reflection that it is just really our way of making ourselves happy for 2 hours (short-term happiness always trumps long-term health and wellness). We spend money on things because we think this will make us happy. This will make us have an exciting life in between sitting at home in front of a computer on Facebook and on the couch watching our eight most favorite TV shows ever (because, you can’t just have one favorite anymore). Going ‘wild’ once a month makes it okay to live a life of gossiping and lies, and self-proclaiming ourselves as good and awesome to our own minds.
Yes, based solely on one aspect of life, money (and I don’t argue, it can be very important to one’s health (read a previous blog post by clicking here)), this man lives in poverty and is poor.
And yet, he is rich in compassion and empathy. Compassionate that even though people kicked his home, he knew it is only ‘our way’ that we are trained by society to always be in a hurry and to judge the worth of one’s possessions based on their monetary value and quantity. He has empathy because he knows so many are driven by hurrying from the fireworks to the party so that it can result in an epic Facebook status the following morning. He has two basic human characteristics that piles of research show are requirements for human happiness. And yet, we still call this man, poor.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A video, is worth a million. Here is a video: http://www.upworthy.com/watch-a-teacher-make-her-3rd-grade-kids-hate-each-other-for-the-best-reason-imaginable-2?g=2
I highly recommend the video.
Then think about this. What if it is your fault, my fault, that this man is homeless? What about the 20 or so people that pushed him out of their way? Is it their fault? If someone was to come to your house every day and kick it and tell you that you are a worthless human being, wouldn’t it begin to affect you? I would likely begin drinking to try to suppress the memories. I’d likely sink into a depression and stop bathing.
There is a need to fix ‘the system.’ We need to have higher standards for each member of the human race. Something that each individual must strive for (and I’m not speaking about richness, the front page of TIME, and fame).
Many universities and colleges, train students to strive for the best job in order to make the most money. Many rarely talk about the best job as the one where you can help the most people.
Recently, I was speaking to a retired RCMP officer. He left the force because the newest police are in the force to get promoted and raises as quickly as possible. No longer is it about a police force based on helping people. It’s not about pulling in front of little Billy’s house to help get the cat from the tree. It’s about making the big drug bust in order to make it on the front page and get the next promotion and pay raise.
I have a university degree. It’s from a university that is ranked in the top 30 in the world. Along with the likes of Harvard, and Oxford. I have worked at one of the best employers in Canada and one of the best post-secondary institutions in the world. Yet, I learn more about how to be a good member of the human race from someone who will likely never have a job (this said, he may have his PhD and be a recipient of universities graduating way too many PhDs just so they look good in the university rankings by having many PhD graduates).
This is what I learned on my first Fourth of July in the USA. The power of one individual.
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Based on your reading of this blog post, you may also be interested in: Personal Bucket List.
These are one person’s thoughts and opinions. We welcome your feedback and own thoughts. Feel free to comment below or connect with us via social media.
Adam Goodwin is a Canadian who has lived and worked in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North America, who is currently attending one of the world’s best sport management programs at the University of Windsor. He is a proud introvert and silent leader. He has traveled to 50 major global cities around the world, and has worked with universities, non-profits, consulting firms, and sport organizations. He has family and friends around the world. Follow his travels, work, projects, and thoughts on Twitter (@adam13goodwin) and on this blog (click on the bottom right-hand corner to sign up for weekly email notifications).