Cocktails Over Compassion


Today, I am sad to be part of this world.

I am sad to be part of a world where the suffering of others has become a second, or third, or fourth priority – if a priority at all.

Where has our humanity gone? Where is our empathy and concern for our fellow man?

Recently, I took a trip to Indonesia. On the way from the airport to my hotel, I stared out my window… I soaked up the beauty of the greenery, the incredibly decorated architecture, the hustle and bustle of the highway. I looked at this country… but I didn’t really see it.

As Western travellers to Indonesia,  we get in taxis and pay a few dollars for a trip that would have cost us double, triple, even quadruple, that price at home. We drive past the poverty, the poor living conditions, the stray animals that are covered in fleas and malnourished. We drive past the pollution and hunger, and we are dropped off at an establishment that is a paradise, built for us, amongst this corrupt and poverty stricken country.

We use it as a playground. We bring millions of dollars here, and then, instead of showing any shred of humanity and helping these communities that need what we have so much more than we do, we spend it on ourselves. We buy cocktails, and food, and stay in hotels that boast facilities far beyond our needs. We haggle to the death for cheaper prices, and don’t even seem to realise that we are bartering over a dollar or two. To us, an insignificant amount… to them, that is a meal. That is clothing. That is medical aid. That is rent.

Don’t get me wrong… I have loved sitting by the hotel pool. I have loved relaxing and sipping a cocktail. I have loved getting massages and eating delicious food. I am not void of guilt when it comes to this issue. But the more I opened my eyes and really looked… The more I researched and learned about the Indonesian culture and standard of living, the more I felt sad.

Sad that we think this is OK.

What are we thinking?

Why aren’t we helping?

When I raised my thoughts with another traveler… their response was that the locals were ‘manipulative’ and bartering is part of their culture, insinuating that it would be rude not to try and knock the price down. They also made the comment that we can’t help ‘all of them’, so there was no point helping just one. And finally, the concern raised, was that if we start paying ‘them’ more, then prices will inflate, and ‘they’ will always expect that kind of money. Are we really justifying our appalling behaviour, by using the protection of costs to us as the reason?

Maybe I am being manipulated by the mother on the street asking for money for her child. Maybe I am crazy for telling my taxi driver to keep the change from 100,000RP for a 30,000RP trip. Maybe it was silly of me to buy the staff at the hotel some donuts to share, and some cool drinks to have in the heat. Maybe I am ‘adding to the problem’ by keeping some chicken in a napkin and feeding a stray kitten on the side of the road.


But I no longer want to come here and behave how I, and so many others have.

And this is not an issue isolated to Indonesia… or to foreign travel in general. This is an issue that seems to have infected every aspect of our lives. We operate in the world in silos. We are desensitised to our own lack of empathy. We feel the need to defend our ‘right’ to live ‘how we want’, and disregard the impact on others.

I don’t think humans are meant to be islands. It takes a village, not just to raise a child, but to survive, and to thrive. We need each other. I think our isolation, and intentional ignorance impacts us in a bigger way that we realise. We have lost touch with how to be people. Depression, anxiety, bi-polar – some of the most prevalent mental illnesses, are often caused by our inability to be ourselves. By having to bury parts of who we are. By not being true to our nature. And we are all now susceptible… because we are living in ways that go against our instinctual drive… because we are living in ways that fail to tap into, or acknowledge, our inbuilt empathy, and benevolence.

We have misplaced our compassion.

We drive through those Indonesian streets, and we don’t even look. We don’t want to look.

And that is sad.

I, for one, think it is time we built back some humanity into the picture, and I find the scariest thing, is that too many of us didn’t even realise we lost it in the first place.