Have a heart and reach out

We are all ca­pa­ble of be­ing com­pas­sion­ate or cal­lous – which do you choose?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRENDS | TRIED & TESTED -

A FEW weeks ago, there was a heart- wrench­ing story about a woman in Xi’an, China who died af­ter be­ing trapped in an el­e­va­tor for a month.

Ap­par­ently the two re­pair­men who were called to the scene af­ter it mal­func­tioned, hap­pily turned off the power af­ter “check­ing” no one was inside.

They merely called out and upon hear­ing no re­ply, con­cluded that it was al­right to shut down and go off for their Chi­nese New Year hol­i­days.

Pro­to­col has to be fol­lowed in these sit­u­a­tions, among which, the doors of the el­e­va­tor must be pried open to en­sure no one is inside. They non­cha­lantly ig­nored this ... at a very high cost.

One grue­some re­port de­scribed how the woman’s hands were all “man­gled”, prob­a­bly due to her at­tempts to pry the cab doors, and from bang­ing at the walls, hop­ing some­one would hear and res­cue her.

The woman, iden­ti­fied as a res­i­dent liv­ing on the 15th floor of the build­ing, had been liv­ing on her own and what was even sad­der, was that no one re­ported her lost or no­ticed her dis­ap­pear­ance at all. No fam­ily mem­ber, friend or even col­league re­ported her miss­ing at work.

One pub­li­ca­tion re­ported that she was “men­tally- chal­lenged”; as if her life was worth any less just be­cause of her men­tal state, or her death was thus ex­cus­able.

I found the in­ci­dent par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing. Be­ing trapped in an el­e­va­tor is one of my worst night­mares, and it breaks my heart to think how one per­son’s ex­is­tence, or non- ex­is­tence, can to­tally lose its value that it makes no dif­fer­ence to oth­ers.

Closer to home, a woman was sen­tenced to a day’s jail and fined RM200, in de­fault of five days’ jail, for steal­ing a packet of Milo for her two- year- old child at a su­per­mar­ket in KL. The poor woman couldn’t af­ford to buy a packet of Milo, much less pay the fine.

In an al­most sim­i­lar in­ci­dent in Bukit Mertajam, Pe­nang, a fa­ther of three was caught shoplift­ing food­stuff worth RM27 from a hyper­mar­ket. He later ad­mit­ted he had no money for food for his kids, and his wife was in a coma in hospital af­ter a birth com­pli­ca­tion.

It re­minded me of Jean Val­jean from Les Mis­er­ables, who ended up in jail for years, just for steal­ing a loaf of bread to feed his starv­ing sis­ter.

While steal­ing shouldn’t be con­doned and pun­ish­ment meted out to serve as a de­ter­rent, ex­treme poverty can drive peo­ple to re­sort to des­per­ate mea­sures; surely there is a more hu­mane and sym­pa­thetic ap­proach to re­solv­ing such sit­u­a­tions?

For­tu­nately for the Milo woman, a benev­o­lent cou­ple paid her fine and got her out of jail. And it was a happy end­ing for the fa­ther who was of­fered a job by the hyper­mar­ket’s com­pas­sion­ate man­ager.

The three sep­a­rate in­ci­dents may seem to­tally un­re­lated, but to me, it speaks vol­umes of the hu­man spirit.

How, on one hand, so­ci­ety can be­come so de­void of feel­ing; so cold and un­car­ing that a per­son can die lonely and for­got­ten; ur­ban liv­ing has made us so self- ab­sorbed that we no longer no­tice a neigh­bour in dire straits.

In con­trast, how com­plete strangers can reach out to help some­one else in need. That spells hope – how we all have the power within to af­fect an­other per­son’s life.

There’s a heart- warm­ing story mak­ing its rounds on the In­ter­net – about an In­done­sian judge, Marzuki, who sat in judg­ment of an old woman who pleaded guilty to steal­ing some tapi­oca from a plan­ta­tion for her hun­gry grand­child and her sick son.

He ruled that there be no ex­cep­tions, and the grand­mother was fined In­done­sian Ru­piah 1mil ( RM310) or two and a half years jail. She wept bit­terly as she couldn’t pay up.

But af­ter that, the judge then took off his hat, put in Ru­piah 1mil into it and said, “In the name of jus­tice, I fine all who are in the court, Ru­piah 50,000 ( RM15), as dwellers of this city, letting a child starve un­til her grand­mother had to steal to feed her grand­child.”

The court col­lected Ru­piah 3.5mil ( RM1,085) and af­ter the fine was paid off, the rest was given to the grand­mother.

Be­yond be­ing just an­other feel­good story, there’s a les­son to be gleaned here – for both our courts and the peo­ple who draw up the sys­tem.

With Easter just over, all the more we’re re­minded that ev­ery­one has the ca­pac­ity to choose to be cal­lous or com­pas­sion­ate – that’s the beauty of the hu­man spirit. If we could har­ness more love, com­pas­sion and pos­i­tive en­ergy to do right by oth­ers, the world would be a much bet­ter place in­stead of the mess we’re in now.

Barely over the dev­as­tat­ing Paris at­tacks, the world wit­nesses yet an­other hor­ror in Brus­sels and La­hore. Our hearts and prayers go out to the vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. Send your feed­back to star2@ thes­tar. com. my

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