The Galati newspaper Viata Libera (Free Life) published an article this week called ‘Begging and Obscenities at the Traffic Light.’ The author, Elena Parapiru, describes the offenses of beggars who irritate drivers with their crutches, their intoxication with paint inhalants, their dirtying rather than cleaning windshields, and their public masturbation. She is especially offended because these terrible images are witnessed by her child in the car. Parapiru asks, “Why the hell doesn’t someone roundup those on the streets? Why does my child have to see these terrible images?”
Parapriu’s article is disturbing. However, it’s not so much the horrors that Parapiru describes that disturb me but rather her reaction to them.
Certainly, there is something obscene in public masturbation and in begging. But I would rank them low on the hierarchy of obscenities. How can we complain about public masturbation when every newsstand displays the pornography it sales or when our banks and hypermarkets use sex to sell their services and products? Isn’t the objectification of women more obscene than the public masturbation of an intoxicated beggar?
Perhaps the reality of beggars offends us. But is it their begging us that is an obscenity or is it our complacency and indifference? Shouldn’t we call hunger obscene? Shouldn’t we be offended by the lack of shelter, the lack of education, and the lack of healthy families?
I find Parapiru’s reaction to beggars obscene. I am offended by Parapiru’s disregard, lack of compassion and blaming of the beggars. More than that, I find it high on the hierarchy of obscenities that Parapiru is educating her child in the school of disdain. Parapiru’s child should be offended more by the actions of her mother than by the actions of the beggar.
Rather than expecting ‘someone’ or some government institution to respond to the beggars, I would call on each citizen to respond. At the very least, we can stop and learn the names of the beggars and listen to their stories rather than standing in judgment from afar. Maybe together we can evaluate the complexities of poverty, the history of the impoverished, and practices that can alleviate poverty. But blaming the poor and blaming society’s lack of reaction to the impoverished without taking personal responsibility is cheap and non-constructive.
I would invite Mrs. Parapiru to respond humanely, if not Christianly, by finding ways to truly help beggars find alternative means to survive and work. Perhaps by discovering the humanity in the poor beggars, we can discover humanity in ourselves.