I Hope to be as decent as “…a little black girl from the South Side.”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Two news items stood in stark contrast over the weekend.

The first, which I read on The Guardian presented evidence that a single family, albeit an unimaginably wealthy and powerful one, was almost single-handedly responsible for the opioid crisis. In a willful pursuit of profits, they ignored data, advice of more level-headed counsel, and – if we’re being blunt – basic human decency.

I’m not going to focus on that article too much. Despite the fact that it’s important, and relevant, and that many of us have our lives, families, and communities affected by the overdose epidemic. The article is linked above and you can read it if you want.

Instead, I’m going to focus on the other article. The one that, I think, holds the key to solving the first.

The version I first saw read “Chicago Woman Got 30 Hotel Rooms for Homeless People During Severe Cold Snap“. It was subsequently updated to include the woman’s name, Candice Payne, which I thought was a welcome adjustment. Once again, you can read the article for the details. I want to focus on two points:

First, that her decision was a snap judgement. She saw the temperature, she knew there were people who were going to be in danger, and she acted.

Second, that in the face of media attention, including a New York Times reporting calling her for a statement, she describes herself as “a regular person […] just a little black girl from the South Side.

So how do I think that the second article in some way points the way to solving the first?

First, Ms. Payne’s act was made with awareness – both self-awareness about who she was and how she figured into the picture, and situational awareness about what she felt she could accomplish, and how she could mobilize others to help.

Second, (and it almost seems tritely obvious to write it, but I still feel it needs to be said) it was focused on others. Where the Sackler family seems to have been single-mindedly focused on how to game the system to yield the highest return of profit into their pocket, Ms. Payne and all who helped her (including the hotel staff, restaurants, etc) were focused on how to stretch their resources to help the largest number of people.

“Who does this help?” is a question that don’t get asked enough these days. While not every choice can be an altruistic one, while not every person is able to make a snap decision to spend $2,000, let alone see it blossom to over $10,000 in a matter of hours, I think Candice Payne’s example – of being aware of both who we are and what we are realistically able to accomplish in a given situation – is a great one for us to take to heart, to talk about with our families, to promote within our community.

To repeat what I said my twitter feed after seeing her story, This is decency. This is how it is done, every day. We should all aspire to be half as good as “just a little black girl from the South Side”.

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