Submitted by Philip Storry on
It's been 20 years of the Big Issue.
So when I was trying to pick a short story to publish this week, it had to be Bus Station.
It's a story that comes from a writing prompt:
Taken from a Writer's Cafe writing prompt...
Character: Mack Till
Setting: Bus station
I chose not to use the name in the story, and up until writing this "Behind The Keyboard" I had forgotten that the character had a name. Which is somewhat relevant...
I can't claim it's my best story, or favourite. But it is the one I had the biggest problems writing.
It was difficult because I was empathising with Mack. I had to, in order to write the next line.
But then I re-read it, and found that it didn't have impact. It was a little dull. So I went for first-person instead.
That was probably a mistake. Although not as much of a mistake as writing it on the train. Putting yourself into such a position and writing in first person forms a powerful feedback loop, and I got rather emotionally shaken.
Still, if I had to pick one thing from that experience, it's that dehumanising the homeless is a daily failure of every city dweller.
I do it every day. You do it every day. We all do it.
And we just shouldn't.
There's a line in the story:
It's being a non-person that lets people treat you badly. That was something else I'd realised recently, as someone hurled abuse at me and kicked me for begging.
Take any social problem, and people try to attach labels to other people to make it easier to treat them badly. Grouping people together allows you to focus on the negative stereotypes, and forget individual nuances exist. But worse, we can't really extend compassion to a group - that's why charity adverts usually focus on one person's story.
No normal person can walk past another in need without dehumanising them. Only a sociopath can.
Sadly, in a big city, dehumanising people is a safety mechanism we use to get through the day.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do to change that for myself. So I can't tell you how to change it for yourself.
But I can point out that we do it. And then we can experiment, and see what works for ourselves.