In the short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, author Ursula K. Le Guin describes Omelas, a seemingly prosperous utopia whose happiness and serenity depends solely on the misery and torment of a single child. While most remain ignorant, sacrificing this one injustice for their happiness, a mere few choose to walk away from Omelas.
Much like Omelas, we live in a relative state of comfort and happiness today, even with the knowledge that there are people in this world living in extreme torment, suffering and poverty. We live in a country that remains ignorant to homelessness, oblivious to 3,333 children who were without a home in 2017. We live in communities replete with elders, who paved the path for our generation, who are now being forgotten and seek support for a simple conversation. We live in a nation where a new international study has criticised Ireland for its lack of reform in the mental health sector.
According to Mental Health Ireland, there are 450 million people world-wide suffering from a mental illness. 450 million, yet it is still attached to a social stigma and ignored by many.
Ireland is being chastised for its lack of rectifying the mental health sector. Prejudices surrounding those with a mental illness are fuelled by our ignorance and shows our unwillingness to understand. We are surrounded by people who fail to be considerate of those suffering from a mental illness, who fail to acknowledge the worry, the dread or every ounce of courage it takes just to initiate a simple conversation or to be in the presence of people in any place or situation. People who fail to imagine what it is like second guessing, questioning every word spoken, every answer received, every action taken, every look given at any given time.
Mental illness is a huge issue but one of many issues being experienced and ignored worldwide. How do we react to such social issues? We remain indifferent, so we can be perfectly happy and forget about hardships in this world. But if we begin to recognise social problems, we are already closer to the reality of Omelas.
By remaining oblivious we are interpreting a reality to fit our own needs and wants. But there is no real Omelas as everyone hopes for, no such thing as eternal happiness. Ironically, those in poverty are said to lead happier lives. This is because they’ve seen the world for what it is rather than a false paradise.
Omelas compels us to ask ourselves whether we can live in a false utopia which ultimately acquiesces to injustices or choose to walk away. One difference between Omelas and our society is that our world has endless inequities.
Our ignorance towards Mental Health fuels the belief that hiding it behind our masks is okay. But we need to create an environment where people can ask for help, where people can speak about their Mental Health and not be stigmatised, an environment where someone can say they are not okay.
The story ends with "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness…It is possible it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas." I for one choose to walk away from Omelas.