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What Do You Mean By “Civilized”?
February 28th, 2014 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

I’ve been distributing lunches to homeless and hungry people for six months. After a night and a morning of driving rain, I brought food today to people living under the Water Street bridge on either side of the river. Two things struck me:

1) I have no idea how we can call our society “civilized” when we allow people to live under bridges, in parks, and on the street.

2) I continue to be amazed at how kindly, how respectfully, and how courteously I’m treated by people who have nothing. Only occasionally have I been met with disrespect, and it’s generally by people who are traumatized and mentally ill. Everyone else? They are so kind that they put people who have everything to shame.

The contrast was very apparent today. After distributing lunches and having some really wonderful contact with people, I headed home. I was standing at the corner, across from my apartment building, when a large truck came into the intersection and then stopped just before the crosswalk. I made eye contact with the driver and he let me know it was okay to cross. Once I was across the street, an older gentlemen saw fit to mansplain to me about traffic laws, saying, “That truck had the right of way. He was already in the intersection. You shouldn’t have crossed.”

I have no idea why people think it’s a public service to police the behavior of other pedestrians on a public street, but it’s happened to me before — again, after someone driving a vehicle stopped, made eye contact, and let me know it was fine to cross in front of them. I find this kind of behavior annoying. So I interrupted him and said, in my most cheery and assertive voice:

HEY! ENJOY YOUR DAY, WON’T YOU?

I can’t wait to get back to the park to distribute lunches on Monday.

© 2014 by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg


5 Responses  
  • Thurman Greco writes:
    March 5th, 20149:28 amat

    just a note to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog posts. You are an excellent writer and you write about things I’m interested in reading so the combination is perfect for me.
    Keep up the writing!
    The sandwiches for the homeless posts are wonderful. I’ve been working in a pantry in New York State for several years and I adore the people in the line. For the most part they are working against all odds to get through life.
    I wish more people felt as you do.
    Peace and food for all.
    Thurman Greco

  • julesinrose writes:
    March 12th, 20149:28 amat

    I agree with your question. This is why I always write the word “society” with quotation marks or write/say “our so-called society.”

    A society (at least a civilized one) has ethics and values that are for the common good. Why is the US the only first world country that doesn’t have universal health care or free and open access to higher education? Why do have the highest incarceration rate?

    There are whole cities where there are no jobs, no hope, only despair (like Camden New Jersey). This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. We are certainly exceptional in this regard. No other industrialized country has such inequity between the rich and the poor, and sadly, most people do not care as they’re still blinded by the idea of the American Dream, a dream that is fueled by truly meritocratic & individualistic ideas. Not the ideas of a great civilization, but of a civilization based on power and greed.

    Just my humble opinion, lol!

  • Mary Dawson writes:
    March 23rd, 20149:28 amat

    This isn’t really a comment, just something I found that I wanted to pass along because I thought you might find it interesting. I couldn’t figure out how to simply e-mail you. Since you are so passionate about issues of homelessness and disability, I thought this article and the comments after it might be of interest to you. http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2014/03/12/buffett-place

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    July 18th, 202411:27 pmat

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