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January 8, 2014

Nevermind cold pets, help a human

The other night, during that ungodly deep-freeze that had even us Canadians howling “FSCK! It’s Cold!”, we were on our way to see Aladdin down at Mirvish Theatre. Stopped at a traffic light a beggar approached the car, and stood there for what seemed an eternity as I patted my pants pockets and realized I had no toonies or loonies on me to hand over. I shrugged “sorry” through the window as the lights changed and drove on, only then realizing that we were in my wife’s car and she keeps a pile of them in her drivers side cup holder.

I dropped my wife and daughter at the entrance and ended up parking about 4 blocks away. On the way from the parking lot to the theatre I almost broke down and wept, it was so goddamn cold! I thought back to the homeless beggar and berated myself, never mind giving the guy a handful of toonies and loonies, on a night like this I should have reached into my jacket pocket and given the guy $50 or so that he could just get the hell off the street and warm up somewhere.

During the week long cold snap I saw a lot of people on Facebook sharing “memes” depicting cold house pets and urging everybody to “get your pets inside! it’s cold out!” I found myself sardonically noting that there was a visible absence of memes depicting desperately freezing people, out on the street, with nowhere to go.

It’s on these extremely cold nights I find myself worrying about the homeless. At one point in my life I had a near phobia of becoming homeless and it was an unbearable prospect for me to contemplate. When the mercury gets down south of -20C before windchill, I find that old dread of having nowhere to go, and no means to seek shelter comes back and haunts me. The fact that there are people out there now facing exactly that bothers me immensely. So screw the pets save the homeless (yes, I have a pet too … but she’s a siberian husky :-P)

Those who know me, know that I am one of those die hard libertarians, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, personal responsibility above all else, and I stand by those philosophies. Yet when somebody is totally down and nearly out then I feel a personal calling to just help a brother (or sister) out and at the very least get them out of the cold. Teach them how to fish later, but you can’t do anything with a frozen corpsicle.

I mention all this because what we’re talking about here is not socialism (state enforced equality and central planned morality), but charity (helping one’s fellow man) and camaraderie (we live in a society and we are all in this together).

Critics of libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism and those who vilify authors like Ayn Rand (most of which have never read a single one of her books), decry the “strong dog mentality”, that self-sovereign people are all about, looking out for themselves and screwing everybody else. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Ron Paul frequently remarks that in the days before megalithic centrally planned bureaucratic institutions, ostensibly designed to “help the poor” (but frequently just worsen the situation), charity was largely a private affair, undertaken within localized communities and it worked pretty good.

Myself, having recovered from alcoholism some 15 years now learned along the way that “we keep our sobriety by giving it away”, that is to say, we help ourselves by helping others.

When I was at rock bottom, lectures on personal responsibility and getting my life together would have been lost on me, but people who had gone on before me took the time to help me, to make me feel valued, to tell me that I was worth helping simply by being a human being, and that they knew there was something in me worth saving, because there is something in everybody worth saving, and they were willing to put in the effort to get me started down the road to recovery.

This is the essence of compassion, community and charity. The situations change but at the end of the day you help where you can, close to home: don’t let this one drink himself to death, don’t let that one freeze to death, don’t let anybody fall through the cracks and we can all have better, more fulfilling lives and be better off for it.

My favourite charity is the Unity Project a homeless shelter in London, Ontario. In this ungodly cold snap I personally advocate that if you feel like I do about this sort of thing, send a donation their way or find some other homeless shelter in your area (I went to school in London, so it feels like my hometown), Canada Helps is a great portal for finding various charities you can donate to.

Happy New Year to all and stay warm out there.