I took a seat beside him because he was reading a copy of the article on this blog from somethingcool.ca. I had printed off several copies and left them for other homeless to find and read so that I could get some feedback.
Once seated I found he had had to much to drink. He was a little on the scruffy side so most would have avoided him in the first place, throw in being drunk and the ‘avoiders’ would have been giving him a wide berth. At an earlier point I would have been one of those going out of their way in avoidance. I would then have missed out on the thoughts raised in listening and talking to him.
Aside: One of the somewhat surprising things I have learned from this arduous life lesson concerns listening. I have learned much of interest to me from a wide variety of individuals. A favorite group from a person who is mentally challenged; things I needed to help me deal with life on the street from my fellow homeless; an insight from a scruffy drunk. So – practice your listening skills, you could learn a lot of interest and use this way. Not necessarily from the homeless but from your family, friends and those around you.
He was quite upset with the statement that the system, the government and the public lump us all together and view us as one type. It developed that he was not disputing the claim that we are all viewed as one thing, rather he was upset with all those who lumped so many different individuals, stories and situations into one big pile and stick ONE label on all. He did not deny his alcohol problem, freely admitting to it. However, he stressed that he worked for the money he spent on alcohol. He did not collect welfare, did not rob or steal and while it may not be considered a traditional job he EARNED his own money – and paid taxes too (if only sales and excise taxes). He is one of those ‘lazy bums’ who are far from lazy, working hard for his money. It upset him greatly to be lumped together under one label. Worth noting is the fact that he had the courtesy to ask if he was disturbing me (I had the Daily News on my lap. And only continued the conversation when I had assured him he was not disturbing me.
As I reviewed this conversation in my mind and thought not just about the words themselves but what he was in fact ‘saying’ I realized that we were talking about dignity. I was about to use the word simple with reference to human dignity but I realized there is nothing simple about human dignity. Dignity is a part of human nature, something we all have/need and one of the first things taken from the homeless. The system, government and public view and treat the poor, those in need and the homeless as worthless excess baggage – a burden to society. Beat these people down with labels, attitudes, actions, the police and treat them as throw away people. Many look down their noses. I have heard people I know speak with contempt about the homeless (se Footnote 1 below). I know from the backgrounds of some of these folk that it was only through the best of luck, the workings of blind chance, that they have home, family and a comfortable life rather than being homeless and on the streets themselves. Perhaps it is some inner knowledge of just how close they came, how truly lucky they are, that makes them so vehement in the condemnation of the homeless and those in need. In the same vein of ex-smokers being so vehement about anti smoking laws or quitting smoking.
Worthless. Burden. Human garbage. Drunks. Druggies. Ignorant. Lazy. Uneducated. Bums. Freeloaders. Chipping away until their dignity is gone. Yet they turn around and ask “Have you no pride?” – no, the system, government and public have beaten down so many of the disadvantaged, the homeless. Until they reach the point where there is no sense even trying for them. Then beats upon them for having this outlook of despair.
There are any number of inspirational speakers and sayings stressing how important attitudes are in any endeavour. That self image and belief are needed for success. How we look at ourselves and the world affects strongly our motivation. The inner conversations we have, what thoughts our minds are fed, our dreams – all affect our actions. You can live your dreams OR live your fears and self doubts.
I wonder just what the effect of building up their self-esteem/image, of granting them human dignity, of treating them (others) as you would want to be treated yourself would be? That would require ideologues in government and the public to open their minds about the reality of the poor and the homeless, actually see what is and change their Behaviours. SNORT. Yea, right. Open those closed minds? Hmmmm. With more members of local church congregations aware of and wanting to help….. perhaps a miracle such as open minds can be hoped (prayed) for.