When I was a child, my father took me to the Capezio dance store, in Hollywood, to buy ballet shoes. While we were walking from the car to the store, I saw a man waiting for a bus with a large tumor on the back of his neck. As children do, I looked. My father immediately corrected me and said that “we do not stare at another person’s misfortune”.
I never forgot that lesson. To this day, when driving past an accident or seeing something tragic on the news, I literally and energetically look away. Not in denial, but out of respect.
Today, I watched a sweet, talented and sensitive soul document what appeared to be an excruciating manic episode on YouTube. What some viewers may have seen was an amped-up, impassioned individual, bravely and enthusiastically sharing his spiritual journey on his channel. His encounters with aliens and angels, his kundalini awakening and the downloading of new “programs” to alter his DNA.
What I saw was a person who may have been in urgent need of medical assistance.
What did his fans do? They complimented him, shared their own fantastic stories and sent donations.
I could no more sit by and watch it than I could watch a lynching.
Understandably, this may not have raised the alarm for many people cruising YouTube. Contemporary media, in all its forms, has anesthetized us and effectively taken offline our ability to be consciously aware of the real transaction that occurs when we witness a human being self-destruct before our eyes. Truth and theater have become impossibly entangled.
In YouTube, we have what amounts to a virtual Coliseum. A place where we can anonymously sit on the sidelines with our snacks while we watch people get thrown to the lions.
So, what can we do? What should we do? Are we responsible?
Clearly, we cannot interfere with anyone’s freedom of speech or legitimate use of a video-sharing platform. Neither are most of us qualified mental health care professionals who can intervene appropriately.
But, maybe we can choose not to exploit the frailty of others for the purpose of entertaining ourselves and bolstering our lack of inner invigoration. Maybe we can choose not to tune in and feed their misfortune with our voyeuristic energy or rob them of their dignity by staring.
I am not saying for a moment that encounters with nonphysical beings, aliens or angels are not real. But, in my experience, individuals who are actually having them do not trot them out for show and only refer to them when doing so will directly benefit a specific person or circumstance.
We have to use our discretion here. The line between what is reasonable and what is extreme is something each individual has to establish for his or her self. But a basic way of figuring out where that line is, for yourself, is to check in with how things feel. If you feel uncomfortable, if something seems off or there is just too much of “everything” going down, then maybe the line is being crossed.
If we feel that something is not right and we cannot offer tangible assistance, then sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to withdraw our focus from the situation. Maybe redirect our focus instead to sending out a prayer for the person.
Let there be no doubt that we are now as ever responsible for how we treat people, even the ones we do not know and even if separated from them by the veil of video. The choices we make when no one is looking count.
So, let’s choose love, because…
Love is all that matters.
As for the young man in our story, our love and prayers go out to him for his peace and well-being.
If someone is in immediate medical danger or in danger of harming themselves, or others, call “911”.
If you or someone you know is contemplating self-harm, get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. If you are a veteran press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.