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Posted: August 4, 2018

A little more empathy might save lives and our society

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Dumpster diving!

It’s an icky expression often said in jest and sometimes seriously, but also said uncomfortably because most of us just don’t like to think, in a society as affluent as ours with supposedly one of the best social safety nets in the world, that people would be reduced to doing such a desperate thing.

But they are and if you’re honest about it you’ve seen it yourself and not just in big cities but right here in Cranbrook and Kimberley, too. In fact, in almost any community in the country big enough to have one traffic light or more.

And what’s worse it’s becoming a dangerous thing to do. Even a deadly thing to do as the tragic death of a man in Victoria this week has been attributed to dumpster diving. Police say the man was likely sleeping in the dumpster when it was picked up by a commercial garbage truck and carried about a block before the driver became aware of his human cargo. Efforts to revive the man failed and he died on the way to hospital, according to Global News.

A spokesman for a local aid society said street people often congregate around dumpsters for security or to search for recyclable bottles and cans that they can get paid for. “But it’s heartbreaking to have somebody end up dying from that,” the spokesman told Global News. I’ll say! But if you think this kind of a death is rare or unusual you’re sadly mistaken. A quick scan of the recent news reveals this disgusting kind of demise is happening all too often in our supposedly safe and secure society.

In mid July a Vancouver woman died when she tried to look inside a donation bin headfirst, became stuck and died before anyone noticed her plight. The bin was located outside the West Point Grey Community Centre, one of the richest Vancouver neighbourhoods where there are no homes worth less than $1 million and many worth $10 million or more.

What was the woman doing? She was trying to scrounge some clothing after hers was stolen from the tent she lived in with her boyfriend on Jericho Beach, the boyfriend said. Think about that a moment. Living in a tent in one of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada where most women wear designer dresses and the men-folk drive Porches or Audis to work and some even take helicopters.

Something is not adding up here. Dumpster diving is bad enough itself. But dumpster diving causing death is surely appalling.

And there’s more. A Vancouver Search and Rescue spokesman said multiple deaths have been attributed to clothing bins recently including Surrey, Pitt Meadows and Calgary.

“They (clothing bins) are meant to put stuff in – clothing – not humans,” remarked a Calgary drop-in centre client ruefully. Now, let’s unpack this a bit more. Why are there so many clothing bins and dumpsters around anyway? Because our obscenely wasteful and affluent society has too much “stuff” to begin with. Check. And why are these deaths often occurring in more well-to-do neighborhoods? Well, as Hemingway said to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The rich have more money than we do.” Check.

So, what are we going to do? No, I’m not advocating shooting the rich and handing over the booty to the poor. That might have been all right for Robin Hood and his merry men, but they’ve tried it in many countries since and it hasn’t worked out in any of them, including Russia despite what Putin may say. Trump certainly isn’t working on it. He wants the rich to get richer and the needy to be grateful for the crumbs that fall off their polished tables below.

SO, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? Well, I’m not a rocket scientist and I have no magic answers, but I believe it was Ghandi who said the true way you measure a great society is by how it treats its old people and the indigent.

A Universal Basic Income is being mooted lately and it’s an idea with some merit, but you’d never get the Koch brothers or Trump to support it, nor their deluded supporters.

I guess we’ll just have to learn to become kinder, more generous and empathetic people. That won’t be easy, but it just might save our civilization.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who tries to be empathetic, if not humble.

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