I went for a walk a couple of days ago to the park. I was walking in one of the nicest neighborhoods of Mexico City, everything around me was gorgeous. The artificial lakes, the dark green trees that kept the mist from the rain leftovers, even art strategically placed along the park so that you always have something to entertain your eyes and your mind with. Not just that, but also the smell of evening coffee and cinnamon churros spiced the air making the walk most enjoyable.
As I kept walking I noticed a homeless person walking in the opposite direction I was walking to. He was about my age (29), and I couldn’t stop myself from noticing his face, his demeanor, his stance, his eyes. The guy looked lost. His eyes were pointing either up, or to the sides, never towards people. It looked as if he hadn’t seen anyone directly in the eyes for years. He was very dirty, his pants and shirt made up for a singular, black stain. He was also carrying a small bag, a bag, I was sure, had all his belongings in it.
He stood out massively at the scene. But this is not unusual, there’s no shortage of homeless people in the cities. But this guy was around my age. This guy was walking in the same park and yet our experiences couldn’t be more different. He was lost in his mind. I felt terrible empathy for him.
Have you ever been to a place, or a situation, in which you feel you don’t belong? Maybe it was a party full of Ph.D.’s talking about topics so elevated and complicated that you couldn’t help yourself but by sipping your wine and pretend to be interested while your girlfriend is clearly amazed by such interesting personages. The feeling of inferiority is universal, everyone feels it. And it doesn’t feel good. Now, you can cure it with sparkling, eye-opening (getting out of Plato’s cave) philosophy, or by becoming better than anyone else (which is impossible and the power trip will ultimately leave you worse).
Now, can you imagine a world, where you feel like that, all the freaking time? So much so, that you don’t even dare to look anyone in the eye? Kind of like Theon Greyjoy, after being castrated and humiliated for years( if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones). It must be a living nightmare.
I don’t know what went through this young man’s head as he saw the big houses with their grandiose colonial stone-carved terraces and balconies. When he smelled the cooked salmon and all the other delicacies, made specially odorful so that people walking by were lured into the restaurants.
Thinking about the incident now, I wish there were still philosophers in the street as it was in ancient Greece or Rome, I wished healers of the mind still roamed around.
“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”
― Frederick Douglass
Maybe I should have been that person. But I wasn’t, it just startled me for a while, he was not the first homeless person I had seen that evening. And that’s a problem, when you live in a big city, you go through a process of desensitization. You have to, there’s just too many homeless, crazy, or lost people around asking for money or food. You cannot help absolutely everyone around because then you’d end yourself without any money.
Maybe I should’ve told him about Stoic philosophy. Maybe I should’ve told him about the externals, about how all the beautiful things we were seeing around us were nothing in comparison to the grandness of his will. About how there was a man called Viktor Frankl, that lived through the worst possible horrors any human can go through, and came out victorious, in his mind.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl
But who the fuck am I to lecture a kid in the streets?! From my position?! Saying, come on! Just don’t care about all these pretty things, you don’t really need them! When every billboard is constantly telling him that he does. Constantly showing him impossibly beautiful women that he cannot even dream of calling a girlfriend but in a magazine for a while if he can get one.
Maybe I should tell him about Diogenes, living in the streets, voluntarily? But, come on, honestly, if I would’ve been in his position, the whole thing would’ve sounded ludicrous in my mind. “This asshole telling me not to care about delicious food and nice things, what kind of idiot must he think I am?!”
“Haven’t you heard?! Philosophy is dead! Welcome to the advertising age!”
It really saddens me that philosophy, so badly needed for so many desperate people, has fallen so far away from us. Better said, from the people that actually need it. If you’re reading this, you are very lucky and I’d say a wise person as well. Because first, you are able to read this through your phone or computer, so you already have access to information.
But, more importantly, you’re interested in reading things that will maybe (if I’m a little bit successful) expand your thinking. You’re interested in questioning that billboard and thinking for yourself.
Being able to philosophize and practice Stoicism or any other philosophy is a luxury for a few. The biggest philosophy group of Stoicism owned By Donald Robertson has 80k people in it, any famous influencer has more than that, way, way more than that. It’s hard, because cultivating the mind takes time, and we’re constantly being bombarded by attention-seeking entities, always distracted from what’s actually happening in the backstage of the world and of your life.
What to do about the states of affairs? Difficult question, also very personal, but we need to start somewhere. I’ll finish with two quotes from Camus.
“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend”
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
― Albert Camus
Thanks for reading,
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