Resist social or peer pressure for noble values and causes in meaningful ways.
There are thieves lurking around in our neighbourhood. Last year, someone stole our cargo bike in the middle of the night (impressive, really: that bike was big and heavy), and I have often heard neighbours complaining about people looking though garbage cans and taking things. (What things, I don’t know.)
Yesterday, they came to our house.
My wife was upstairs sleeping, I was in the living-room with the baby on my arm, walking back and forth and back and forth, trying to make him fall asleep as well. It was around noon, and he had a new diaper and he didn’t seem to be hungry or to be in any pain, he just wanted to stay awake to experience the world — but his parents wanted to sleep. So there I was, like a lion in a cage (don’t put too much into that comparison), walking from one end of the room and back, with hunched shoulders and sleepy eyes.
Suddenly I saw a stranger outside our house. Two strangers: one man and one woman, both in dishevelled clothes and carrying several plastic bags. The man was outside our gate, trying to open it.
I went to the window. Hey you, I mimed, get the hell out of here!
He saw me and pointed at something inside the gate.
I went to the door and opened it, still with the baby half asleep in my arms.
Glass, he said in broken English or Danish before I could say anything, glass? Pant? Please? He pointed towards a plastic bag with glass next to our garbage.
The last time there was a neighbourhood party, a neighbour called people who search through our garbage for thieves and even worse things. He thought they were obnoxious and if he ever saw them, he would kick them down the street and scare them out of town. Vermin!
He was talking about this man in front of me. He was talking about a man whose income was our trash, our bottles, our leftovers. He was talking about a man who stayed outside the gate once he saw me through the window, and who asked politely if I could give him something I pay the government to take away for me anyway.
And I should scare him out of town?
But what on earth for?
Yes, it’s annoying when someone intrudes your space. We own the area inside the gate, it’s ours and no-one else’s, and anyone who wants to open the gate, must be allowed to first. You can’t just go there without our permission, even if you just want to take away some trash. The world suddenly feels more insecure and we feel a bit violated if someone does.
On the other hand… I have been there. Not stealing trash, but having not enough money to buy some decent food and looking at the mansions and the big cars and extravagant shopping sprees around me. I know the feeling — and even then I knew that my family could help me out, or that I had money somewhere else, or that the student loan would soon come.
This man, however, didn’t seem to have that luxury. And because of that, I should chase him away, like most people here chase our cat lady neighbour’s cats?
I’m sorry, I said, those glass — no pant.
Ah, OK, he said, thank you, my friend, thank you.
But I could… I heard myself say, but he was already gone. Good luck, I said, more to myself and the now sleeping baby than to him — good luck. And I closed the door.
I don’t like people searching through my garbage. But I should like even less that my luck in life should make me despise those not so lucky.
I’ll resist social pressure and tell my neighbour that next time I see him.