Helping Others, How Far Would You Go? ...

For many life is one miserable day after another.  A seemingly endless parade of catastrophic events.  Others seem to dance through life, suffering little more than the occasional bump or bruise.  Recently it was brought to the attention of the Chiang Rai community, that there are some unfortunate foreigners in our midst.  Of course that should not be news to anyone who has been around for a while.

A cry for help and sympathy from one distraught soul, trying to help a friend through a bad time in the hospital, was met by a strange mix of concern from some and unbridled distain from others.  After some heated debate, one brave peacemaker in our midst, took it upon himself to find out if the story was true or lived in the realm of imagination and fantasy.

Not only was the story true, but yet another unfortunate foreigner was discovered in the same overcrowded local hospital.  This is the hospital where our local villagers would go, as opposed to the two upmarket hospitals, frequented by many local expats.

Upon receiving a report on the individuals in question (both the teller and victim), one brave individual in the negative camp, summoned the courage to both apologize and visit the hospital.  Others maintained an eerie silence, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Clearly these events are not unusual.  One could, and I believe some do, make it their calling in life to look after the many foreigners who fall on bad times here in Thailand.  Visiting jails and hospitals, or even the local bars would surely provide an endless stream of even more desperate stories than the two gentlemen referred to above.  I’m not sure what it is about Thailand, that lends its self to so many sad tales of woe about unfortunate foreigners.  That is a discussion for another day, perhaps.

It is the variance in response to these situations that interests me.  The concern or sympathy is understandable but the hostility and distain begs a closer look.  While some might genuinely be mean spirited, others may simply have difficulty dealing with adversity or prefer to keep their distance.  I for one avoid bars and jails and find hospitals depressing places, along with retirement and nursing homes.  Except for dealing with my immediate family I would find it hard to spend time in such depressing places.

Some religions take the position that life is suffering and do a good business providing guidance to the multitudes, in their effort to escape said suffering.  I suspect there are relatively few of us who view life in a more positive light and who’s choices and opportunities have led them down an easier path.  I’m not at all sure how long I could maintain my outlook on life if I were mired in the tragedy of other’s lives.  I do admire those who can give of themselves and step into the lives of strangers, offering comfort and help in their time of need.

Sadly I seem to lack the capacity to step out of my comfort zone for anyone other than my wife and my parents.  That said, there runs under the surface, a theme of the savior or knight in shining armor, here in Thailand.  How else could one explain the multitude of odd couples that perpetuate here, with seemingly nothing in common.  Desperate young girls with the need to receive and desperate old men, with a savior complex, and the seemingly even more desperate need to give.

So when you hear these tragic stories that abound in Thailand, how do you respond?  Break into tears, hover around hospitals, turn a blind eye, say it serves them right, accuse the messenger of telling untruths or some more imaginative response?  Is your attitude toward desperate Thai women different from your attitude toward desperate foreigners who are down on their luck?  Would you help her but not him?

There is of course no correct answer here, just an acknowledgement of how we deal with such things.  I for one find myself a little numb after so many years in Thailand.  I deal through avoidance when I can, with the realization that I cannot realistically carry the burden of all those in need.  The dance of life, whether short or long, ends at the same place for everyone.  I’ll dance to the music I have been given and try my best to stick to that rhythm without disturbing the dance of others.  Perhaps you are a better person than I, willing to sacrifice your own wellbeing for the good of others?