A few weeks ago, there was a heart-wrenching story about a woman in Xi’an, China who died after being trapped in an elevator for a month.

Apparently the two repairmen who were called to the scene after it malfunctioned, happily turned off the power after “checking” no one was inside.

They merely called out and upon hearing no reply, concluded that it was alright to shut down and go off for their Chinese New Year holidays.

Protocol has to be followed in these situations, among which, the doors of the elevator must be pried open to ensure no one is inside. They nonchalantly ignored this … at a very high cost.

One gruesome report described how the woman’s hands were all “mangled”, probably due to her attempts to pry the cab doors, and from banging at the walls, hoping someone would hear and rescue her.

The woman, identified as a resident living on the 15th floor of the building, had been living on her own and what was even sadder, was that no one reported her lost or noticed her disappearance at all. No family member, friend or even colleague reported her missing at work.

One publication reported that she was “mentally-challenged”; as if her life was worth any less just because of her mental state, or her death was thus excusable.

I found the incident particularly disturbing. Being trapped in an elevator is one of my worst nightmares, and it breaks my heart to think how one person’s existence, or non-existence, can totally lose its value that it makes no difference to others.

Closer to home, a woman was sentenced to a day’s jail and fined RM200, in default of five days’ jail, for stealing a packet of Milo for her two-year-old child at a supermarket in KL. The poor woman couldn’t afford to buy a packet of Milo, much less pay the fine.

In an almost similar incident in Bukit Mertajam, Penang, a father of three was caught shoplifting foodstuff worth RM27 from a hypermarket. He later admitted he had no money for food for his kids, and his wife was in a coma in hospital after a birth complication.

It reminded me of Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, who ended up in jail for years, just for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving sister.

While stealing shouldn’t be condoned and punishment meted out to serve as a deterrent, extreme poverty can drive people to resort to desperate measures; surely there is a more humane and sympathetic approach to resolving such situations?

Fortunately for the Milo woman, a benevolent couple paid her fine and got her out of jail. And it was a happy ending for the father who was offered a job by the hypermarket’s compassionate manager.

The three separate incidents may seem totally unrelated, but to me, it speaks volumes of the human spirit.

How, on one hand, society can become so devoid of feeling; so cold and uncaring that a person can die lonely and forgotten; urban living has made us so self-absorbed that we no longer notice a neighbour in dire straits.

In contrast, how complete strangers can reach out to help someone else in need. That spells hope – how we all have the power within to affect another person’s life.

There’s a heart-warming story making its rounds on the Internet – about an Indonesian judge, Marzuki, who sat in judgment of an old woman who pleaded guilty to stealing some tapioca from a plantation for her hungry grandchild and her sick son.

He ruled that there be no exceptions, and the grandmother was fined Indonesian Rupiah 1mil (RM310) or two and a half years jail. She wept bitterly as she couldn’t pay up.

But after that, the judge then took off his hat, put in Rupiah 1mil into it and said, “In the name of justice, I fine all who are in the court, Rupiah 50,000 (RM15), as dwellers of this city, letting a child starve until her grandmother had to steal to feed her grandchild.”

The court collected Rupiah 3.5mil (RM1,085) and after the fine was paid off, the rest was given to the grandmother.

Beyond being just another feel-good story, there’s a lesson to be gleaned here – for both our courts and the people who draw up the system.

With Easter just over, all the more we’re reminded that everyone has the capacity to choose to be callous or compassionate – that’s the beauty of the human spirit. If we could harness more love, compassion and positive energy to do right by others, the world would be a much better place instead of the mess we’re in now.

Barely over the devastating Paris attacks, the world witnesses yet another horror in Brussels and Lahore. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.