Good morning man was sat in a deck chair in shorts in the garden in front of sky-rise council flats when he said good morning to me and a lady in front who had clearly never encountered him before. Her confusion was ended when she decided that, because I replied good morning in a cheery tone far too out of place for 7:30am, we must know each other. That was the same morning that my commute to work was disrupted because someone threw themselves under a train on the Jubilee line. I wondered what would have happened if that person had walked to the tube and good morning man had greeted him that morning or other mornings.
Good morning man’s name is Nigel. He wears shorts every day of the year and is often seen walking a pair of dogs which belong to an elderly lady no longer able to walk them herself. Myself and friends encounter him on our various commutes to work along the residential streets of Kilburn where he gives us a cheery-to-the-point-of-being-sung “Good Morning!” He once said good evening to me as walked home – a change that was too much for my confused brain which could only offer me the words “good morning” in response.
We paint a picture of a dog eat dog world where all humans are inherently selfish, that it’s in our nature to look out for number one and we try to justify our supposed lack of empathy with this. Contrastingly, we like to boast that we are the only species capable of empathy and to care about the welfare of others. So many of us say we care about people in third world countries and the homeless on our streets because we donate money to them. Yet so few of us are prepared to really understand their situation. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. George Orwell spent an intermittent five years living on the streets, getting to know the homeless in order to write his book “Down and Out in Paris and London”. I’m not saying the only way we can show empathy is to pull an Orwell. However, simply throwing change at a problem doesn’t show we care about it.
Many of us associate morality with religion. I recently watched a Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends episode where he accompanied a group of Christians on a night time mission to help rescue people from alcoholism, promiscuity and poverty with the hope of showing them the “light”. A surprising amount allowed the group to serenade them with songs more appropriate to a Christian camp fire and everyone accepted their advise and donations. What occurred to me was that many were willing to accept the help of the group as their kindness was explained by their religion. So many of us will only believe genuine empathy and kindness if we can explain it as abnormal – as extremist religion or, in Good Morning Man’s case, madness. As a non-religious, relatively sane, normal person I am too embarrassed, too afraid of rejection, to speak to the homeless girl I pass by on my way to work. She seems to be about my age and yet I have never been brave enough to perhaps ask her if she prefers tea or coffee so that I can get it for her. When we encounter this empathy and altruism that we are so proud of as a species, we fail to recognise it because of the “number one” image we have promoted for so long.
We spend so much time giving to causes that are so far away from the issues that are right at home. Although causes like drought, famine and disease are of course worthwhile they are an easy option for the individual to support because they don’t necessarily require them to give any of themselves, just £2 a month.
Good morning man doesn’t do anything grand: he walks a lady’s dogs and he greets everyone he sees. To many, he is viewed as an eccentric, slightly mad man because of this. But I think he’s got it right. To me is one of the bravest men I know, not least because he wears shorts in the middle of January, but because he does something so tiny yet so effective in making the world around him a better place. Regardless of what they conclude about his character, everyone that encounters him walks away smiling. If there were more of him the world would be a friendlier place and perhaps those like the person who committed suicide last week wouldn’t feel so alone.