One of the first reactions I get from starting a conversation with one of the thousands homeless people and drifters on the street of Paris is a sparkling in their eyes. By finding answers to the question “Why are you living on the street?” I learned very quickly that each one of them has his/her own story. A central question surely is “What are your demands of life?” The true vagabond lives that life by choice and by his own values. For me, the concept of a life with nothing is exactly the same as a life of complete luxury – just on the other end. And I even suggest that homeless people are not more unhappy than billionaires.
Too often I see a motionless fellow that lays spread out in the gutter. You wouldn’t notice if he is still alive, unless you talk to him. I understand that this confrontation is delicate and causes fear. Martin Luther King, Jr. provides me with the ideal thought: “The question is not ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ but ‘If I do stop, what will happen to him?’”
The inequalities in wealth are growing, especially in America, where 1% of the population is controlling 40% of the wealth and taking in nearly 25% of the nation’s income. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more averse the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. Because they don’t need the government, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had.
Everyone has self-interest, but, as Alexis de Tocqueville put it, self-interest properly understood means appreciating that paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest – in other words, the common welfare – is a precondition for one’s own ultimate well-being.
The top 1% of the population has always the best houses, the best education, the best doctors and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing, that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99% live.
Photo. Franco Tettamanti
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