The Right to Live, Work, and Be Free

I provided support to some young people involved in the Occupy movement in Toronto: supplies to keep them dry, food and general camping gear. I am not a communist, a radical or interested in destroying the economic structure of our western world. I believe in fairness and a social safety net. I believe in freedom of expression. I want people to be more involved and less apathetic. I want people to care.

I want my children to care about those around them, the world, the environment, the future. When you walk past a homeless person sitting on the street, they may be addicted, drunk or mentally ill, but they are human. They once had people that cared for them and knew their name. The world is not always fair to those that do not have the tools to survive (or have had those tools taken away from them). I would like to be treated the way I treat others… does that remind you of something? It should. Every religion shares some part of that idea; every society has used that concept in some form. In anthropology, the measure of a sophisticated social group is one which nurtures their young and takes care of their sick and old.

On the corner of Spadina and Richmond, near our head office, I met a man bumming for money. His name was Brian. When I first met Brian, it was 2005. I bought him some food and water (street people can get dehydrated / don’t always have enough to eat) and I talked to him. He had been in the army, in jail and was addicted. He had a great personality—not abusive, friendly—and he appreciated a real conversation. During the next few years I met Brian regularly, partly because he was always there. I knew he had diabetes, and one day he asked for my help; he took off his shoe and worn sock, and he showed me his big toe. He had a blister that grew and opened a sore that exposed the white bone below. I pushed him to a clinic and he had the wound cleaned, was given medications—a bag full—but he had nowhere to store them. Over the next two years, he lost both legs from the progression of his illness. He is still on the road now with a motorized wheelchair. He is alive, and he says he has stopped using. With some support, he went from a “bum” to a human being. It wasn’t just me; it was others in our office and in the area, the social health care system, social agencies and halfway houses.

I have met many people who were disenfranchised by circumstances—many their own fault, but many because of family life, abuse, mental health, addiction or a lack of education. Hope and a future can be extinguished in the blink of an eye; a family falls apart and a child is left to fend for himself; a refugee becomes a nomad because of war or famine; a young person sees no future because they cannot get a start in life or they are stuck in a job they don’t want. Hope can be derailed so easily, and it affects us all.

I have seen politicians and senior executives at major financial institutions and large companies focus on what advantages them and disadvantages others. They can make the wrong decisions because of greed or due to a lack of knowledge, caring or understanding.

I have been in meetings where leaders discussed social systems and argued that everyone must fend for themselves; they said that social systems brought down economies rather than built human capital. When I pushed back with the facts, it made them nervous. The vulnerable, those who cannot do it on their own or do not have some form of social assistance, will cost more to society than if leaders proactively took care of the issue. If you fire a group of experienced 50-year-olds because you want cheaper workers or different training (something that was discussed in Davos), their children will be affected. If you do not find work for young people or provide some form of hope for the future, then we all have a security and economic problem. No one is immune to the world or to the people around them.

I am not a bleeding heart; I am pragmatic and a realist. We need to take care of our people, and we need to have those people engaged in life, educated, working and building a future. Everyone has a right to live, work and be free. This is not a world for elites, and money does not make you human—just ask an anthropologist.

6 Comments on "The Right to Live, Work, and Be Free"

  1. Natasha says:

    Very well said. This post makes me proud to be a part of the Inlge team. It also makes me wonder if the bleeding hearts and the realists are really so different?

  2. Margaret says:

    Agreed with Natasha. This makes me proud of being part of this company working with Robin.

  3. Mónica says:

    Well said, Robin. It’s so important to focus on the individual and not on the material side of things. People are our best assets, and if we take care of each other, we will all have a better society, work environment, interpersonal relationships, and overall better lives. By providing equal opportunities for everyone ( women and men no matter their background, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or believes) we will have a better today and an even better tomorrow. We, as a society, still have a long way to go.

  4. Ani Semanjaku says:

    As an anthropologist (anthropology student), I agree 🙂

  5. Scott says:

    I actually ran into Brian last night in the east end. He’s a lovely person to speak with and we had a good conversation. He’s doing well and says to say hi!
    Here’s a pic…

  6. Robin Ingle says:

    Thank you for the comments, and thanks Scott for the photo of Brian – he is a good guy. There are a lot of Brians out there… you can’t help them all, but a little bit of kindness can go a long way. And not just for people on the street.

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