Off-Topic: Questions I have no Answer to

This is an off-topic post written at work. Sorry it ain’t too happy.

There is a young guy at the clinic I work for that I come across ever so often on my way to the cafeteria or when meeting clients. He must be around 20 years old although I can’t exactly tell. Like many of the more longtime residents, he likes hanging in the park and talking to random people. Every time I see him, I don’t know quite what to expect. Some days he ignores me, on others he waves at me greeting me like an old acquaintance. On other days he’s raving loudly, so I pass by not saying anything. I know quite a few people who are afraid of him, taking a detour whenever he comes in sight. Some are nervous or just indifferent. That’s not a judgement of any of these reactions as not everyone employed at the clinic is equipped or meant to directly engage with patients. Naturally this is an environment dedicated to their care but that doesn’t mean everybody down to the frontdesk person knows exactly how. For most of the support staff, the patients remain firmly on the other side of daily business. The young man raving in the park is just another voice they’ll hear outside a window.

I guess what makes it different for me in his case, is that I know this young guy was once upon a time somebody’s son and someone’s brother. I know not his name but I know that he was sound of body and mind. He probably obsessed over brands and baggy pants (he still wears giant hiphop attire and bling), hated his teachers and dreamed of a sweetheart somewhere. Until one day a car accident killed his entire family and left him all alone and forlorn in this world. I wonder if he remembers the accident that left him a sole survivor. I wonder if he remembers that he once had parents and siblings. I wonder most, if it matters if he doesn’t.

Now the clinic is his home. The staff that look after him to the best of their ability. The park and the people in it who take a detour whenever he comes in sight. I don’t want to pity him because pity is a patronizing emotion and I have no idea how the world looks like through his two eyes. He may be as happy or unhappy as the next person, there’s no way I could know. Yet I’m still gutted by his story, I can’t help that. I am sad that he will probably never again be in full charge of his own life. But then, am I? Should we even look at different lives in this way, as if there was one preferable way of living?

I don’t know. These are difficult questions.


  1. Ouch, emotional gutpunch (in the good way). And here i was expecting a light gaming related read.

    I understand your ponderings though. And thanks for sharing the story.

  2. “Should we even look at different lives in this way, as if there was one preferable way of living?”

    It’s strange, but I’ve been thinking similar philosophical thoughts these few days, though it’s stemming from something more game-related.

    I mean, yes, we acknowledge the validity that there are different ways of living, different ways to look at the world, all of which the person in question may be perfectly fine with. (Happiness or contentment is also a difficult term to use, since then we’re applying a value of “happiness” being a priority for said person.)

    But then you wonder, how far can we take this “everything is subjective” viewpoint? Are there not things that are objectively better for most people? Factually better? There are certain standards of living / wage earnage above which people can live comfortable lives, and below which, they cannot.

    Is it not ok to then apply a value judgment and say that we would like to help everyone (or as many people as we can) over this threshold, or do we just live and let live and accept that “meh/eh/hmm, there are some people that are over, and some that are not?”

    Science is based on things that are testable, and things that are disprovable. There is a certain objectivity to evidence-based testing that we ought to ascribe, no? We can’t just say “eh, it’s all subjective, you’re correct, I’m correct, everyone’s correct and ok,” even if there are radically different hypotheses/beliefs held by different people.

    Granted, there are errors in measurement, errors in testing, everything can be constantly revised, given new evidence, given new disputes, but at any one point, we are relatively confident of saying, “given what we currently know, this is objectively better than that, because the world/reality demonstrates success if we do it this way, and the world/reality tells us failure if we do it that other way, for a certain X definition of success/failure.”

    eg. a disease is cured by treatment with X medicine, but not with Y medicine. Therefore, if your goal is to cure said disease, please use X. Y may be perfectly good at treating other things, it’s not “worthless” in totality, but for this specific purpose, yes, it is not good.

    We shouldn’t just live and let live and say, oh, it’s ok if you want to use X, and if you want to use Y, it’s all subjective, anyway, if the purpose is ‘cure said disease,’ right?

    Granted, if the purposes are different, then it’s a different ballgame. I want to use X to cure said disease, you use Y for curing oh, arthritis or something else.

    I think, in the end, we can’t help but look at different situations colored by different viewpoints. We -will- leap to judgments and conclusions and emotionally react, based on our own priorities first. It’s probably a survival instinct, for all we know.

    At most, what we can do is mitigate that initial reaction with some thought and awareness that there can be different perspectives, and decide to change beliefs or attitudes if needed

    1. “At most, what we can do is mitigate that initial reaction with some thought and awareness that there can be different perspectives, and decide to change beliefs or attitudes if needed”

      This exactly is the point. We need to train ourselves to be more aware because we do have initial gut reactions that are mostly emotional. But difficult questions like these can only ever be answered (or attempted to) on a case by case basis.
      In a psych clinic for example, there is a huge diversity of cases and stories. Many patients are very clearly suffering and that suffering can be pinpointed and worked on. But what about those who live for whatever reason, physical or psychological (that young man has had brain damage), in a reality that’s fine to them subjectively? When such a patient smiles and tells us they are happy, who are we to question that? That would be both ignorant and arrogant.

      On the other hand I agree with you completely that there are fundamental goods that may stand above subjectivity. In a majority of cases freedom is such a fundamental good. And of course, food, health, education – you can’t watch documentaries on child labour and then argue that “maybe they’re happy and at least they got something to live on”. That’s just cynical. At the same time, it would be equally wrong to pity their lives as if there was absolutely nothing redeeming about them. I guess it’s also a question of judgement vs dismissal/condemnation.
      So yeah, difficult. 🙂

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