On New Year's Day, I finally sat down to watch The Push, a Netflix original that I first learned about by listening to the Pop Culture Coffee Hour podcast (click to hear their review). The basic premise of the film is "four people are [unknowingly] being put through a huge choreographed scenario created to persuade them to do things they normally would not do. The final minutes reveal who would be willing to push a human being over the edge of a building due to social pressure" (IMDB).
It's intense. Although no one actually dies, it's quite unsettling. Particularly as I think about my own life. How much of my life do I conform without even realizing it?
On New Year's morning, I had attended Divine Liturgy for St. Basil. A few days earlier, while previewing our upcoming podcast (an interview with Fr. Barnabas Powell that you won't want to miss), Fr. Barnabas mentioned one of St. Basil's quotes that has been bouncing around in my head. "When someone steals a man’s clothes, we call him a thief. Shouldn’t we give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not?"
What he's saying is that stealing isn't just taking something that belongs to someone else, but it's also not giving to someone in need when we have the ability. In the same way, I say I wouldn't kill another human being, but do I have enough food in my house (and money in my account) to keep someone else from starving to death? St. Basil is saying that I am a thief and murderer.
How did I become conditioned to ignore poverty and refuse to help others? Who taught me to think of my belongings as mine? How did I accumulate so much unnecessary stuff? Why do I imitate the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan and look and walk away from those who are suffering? Can we acknowledge the overwhelming social pressure that exists to not get involved with those who have material needs? We know there is homelessness in our own neighborhood. We have heard the statistics about the starvation in countries not so far away. We know that sick people cannot afford medical treatment.
While I hope that I would never push someone off a building, I do have the ability to prevent others from dying.
As the Pop Culture Coffee Hour guys said in their review of The Push, social pressure and conformity can go both ways. There doesn't just have to be negative peer influence. The purpose of our podcast, blog, and social media posts is to do our small part to help apply some positive social pressure. Please help us by influencing us to do the right thing. We're all in this together!