Over the last few weeks I have become aware of several different situations:
1. That the squatters who were evicted from the land at Lwandle several weeks ago had ‘purchased’ the right to squat there from R2500. The entire transaction both meaningless and illegal, but people desperate for a place to erect a shack were preyed on by those who had a little more power.
2. A medical doctor specialising in care of cancer patients started peddling Amway products to these same patients. This doctor is apparently not the only one. But these doctors are clearly actively enriching themselves by preying on the fears of their patients.
3. Amazon’s alleged behaviour towards small publishers.
In all cases there is an imbalance of power. And in all cases, the more powerful agent is blatantly manipulating the more vulnerable party for their own benefit.
Whilst I am not involved in any of these activities, and my daily job is such that it is unlikely ever to encourage such behaviour, I cannot help but wonder how often I inadvertently support such systems.
I am not a vulnerable member of society. I have a good job and I am healthy. But are there circumstances in which I use the power that I do have in ways that are exploitative of the vulnerable. Maybe not directly, but do I support those who exploit others?
Perhaps even more importantly when I encounter someone who is vulnerable do I engage with their humanity or do I try to distance myself? Sometimes it seems that we fear engaging with the vulnerable as though power were a limited resource. If I walk alongside this person for a while maybe I will ‘catch’ vulnerability myself.
It occurs to me that perhaps the most important first step is not to offer the help the vulnerable person, rather to start by seeing them as fully human. To imagine for a moment what it would be like to live their life. The second step is to talk to them as I would talk to someone I would regard as an equal. I suspect that a little bit of dignity will go a long way. Both in their lives and in my own!
Perhaps one day I will capable to seeing individuals simply as human beings. I confess that I am not there yet. I am still influenced heavily by social circumstances.