Enough? Right? Wrong?

Last summer I went on a little trip to Austria with Remco. As we drove through Germany, there were stops for toilet breaks and food. At one of those stops, I saw a man fishing plastic bottles out of the trash cans. Remco and I started talking about what might be the reason behind this. Somehow we could not figure out if this was an act of a man who was trying to collect his food for the day, someone who was doing something for a better environment or a worker at the parking place. What I did observe was the looks on people’s faces as they passed by and it made me feel bad. Very bad. I had the feeling people looked at this person disparagingly.

I had to walk back to the car and as I passed the man a second time, I was trying to figure out a way to acknowledge him as a human being, his value as a human being, and hopefully give him some joy for this day. I remembered I still had some toilet discount tickets and so did Remco. I collected his as well and walked up to the man. “Can I offer you these?” I asked him, waving the tickets. He smiled. He said thanks. He straightened his back. I wished him a good day and walked off, back to the shop, to get coffee. All I could think on my way back to the shop, was: “I have not done enough”, “I should have invited him for coffee”, “I should’ve listened to his story if he would have been willing to share it with me”. And then I hated myself for these thoughts. Who said this man needed my help? Was my help pitying him, dehumanizing him just as much as the looks on the other people’s faces? As I sat down at the restaurant I cried.

As a person who always wants to do the right thing, always wants to help out others, always searches for ways to make the world a better place, I often get stuck. I never have the feeling that it is enough. I never have the feeling that I am doing enough, giving away enough, caring enough. I wonder if I do the right things and if it is not just my arrogance to think I can actually make a change in a person’s life. I struggle with the question if I should even blog about things I do. Yes. Doing good makes me feel better, but to be honest, most of the time it makes me feel desperate or sad just as much.

I believe that if I act from the heart, at least I should have some peace of mind; Maybe I am actually helping someone out. Maybe I am actually doing something good for this world or giving an animal a chance to live by my actions. I do not know the answer to a very substantial question: What is good and what is bad at the end of the day? Is it even possible to answer this question at all? How can we know the way our actions influence the future? How can we really know what is important in life beside our own values, beside the things others teach us to value?

How can I judge someone with an entirely different childhood, who grew up in a different culture, with different values? How would my values be any better than anyone else’s? This question is obviously not new. I am just writing down my personal struggle, not a new discovery of any kind.

I did learn one important lesson that day. During the conversation with Remco, he convinced me that sometimes paying attention to someone is enough, and paying attention can be positive, no matter what the situation or background of the situation. That, however big someone’s problems are, another person cannot always be, nor doesn’t have to necessarily be, the solution. Treating people as you would like to be treated yourself, trying to treat people as human beings, respect nature, our planet and try to avoid damaging it, that is what I can do. I hope that one day I can learn to have peace with the actions I take. I hope one day I will think to myself: I did enough this time. Even if it is mere ignorance. Even if it is the truth. One day I hope I will have the feeling that I did enough. That I actually helped someone along his or her path in a meaningful way. But you can never really know, can you?

In the meantime, I will just follow my heart. Do what I can in the hope that I will help some people along their paths and in the hope it means something.


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