I have a motto, it is “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”. I try hard to live my life by this motto, and I try hard to teach my kids to live their lives by it too.
But, I must say that twice this week I’ve been pretty upset by how I saw different people either talking about, or actually talking to homeless people. Both felt like the person should simply get a job and stop begging. One said so quite meanly directly to the person, the other said so out of hearing but to those around them. I will confess I didn’t say anything to the lady who tore a strip off of the young man today. However, I did stop and put my hand on his shoulder and tell him not to listen to her and I said a few kind and encouraging words. And no I didn’t give him money.
In theory, perhaps it is true that people should get a job and work for their own money. But in my opinion, it is a highly simplified response to a bigger issue. Is there mental illness involved, what are the surrounding circumstances, drug or alcohol or gambling addictions, etc. Not everyone is employable. And, honestly for a homeless person to find employment is even harder. They are often dirty and smelly and just don’t present themselves well. They need a shower and razor and good night’s sleep. Just to name a few. But even that is oversimplified. Yes, there are places out there where they can get these things, but that doesn’t mean that they feel like they can go there. Even more issues like pride and self esteem and so many more are involved.
My beef is with the attitude some people have towards those less fortunate than themselves. I don’t believe in enabling people, but rather giving them a hand up. Many times I’ve given groceries out of my shopping cart or snacks out of my car to those who are hungry. I’ve bought meals for homeless and my daughter and son have both bought coffees on numerous occasions for the homeless. I donate monthly to a local shelter that feeds and clothes and sleeps and educates and houses the homeless and helps them to find long term employment and housing and helps with addictions and mental health.
But I also believe that regardless of how a person got to the street or to the need they are experiencing, they are a person. They are a human being. They are a child of God. They are a son or daughter and sister or brother, a mother or father. There are people who love them. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They deserve to be looked in the eye and spoken to. They deserve to be touched, no matter how filthy or stinky they are. They deserve a hand on the shoulder. Human touch is so important to each of us. But imagine if because of your looks and smell no one looked at you or touched you, you became invisible – because invisible is easier to deal with than the dirty needy person in front of you…who must not want to work and would rather beg to get enough money to eat today.
So, I’m not saying that you need to give money to every or any homeless or needy person. I am saying you need to treat them as you want to be treated. Look them in the eyes and say a kind word. It will likely have them walking away a little bit taller. Dignity, respect, compassion. We all want it, so why don’t we start by giving these things away…I bet they will be returned to you multiplied many times over!
OK, my second beef….
Where is general compassion these days? It seems like often instead of simply helping a person in need, we judge them. We decide that they can’t manage their money or they have an addiction or their need is all their own fault. This may all be true. But it doesn’t negate the immediate need. Yes, we have to be careful not to enable or encourage existing problems. But, sometimes or often, I think we use that excuse as a way to get out of helping at all.
And sometimes, the worst offenders are the ones who have received the most help. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut feeling sorry for ourselves. We think and want to believe that we are the worst person off. We convince ourselves that no one is helping us, so we certainly aren’t going to help anyone else. The reality is that by simply showing compassionate kindness to someone else we are helping ourselves. We are widening our world view. And we are removing ourselves from the center of our own universe. By showing compassionate kindness we are allowing ourselves to experience the gift of helping others. Our actions actually make us happier. They make us feel better. They also help us to see that there are others out there who are worse off than us. And they help us to start to open ourselves up so we can actually honestly see the blessings we DO have.
Life isn’t easy. We all have rough times and difficult things we face. But if we can manage to keep our humanity through it all, manage to see the little blessings in the often big mess…we will find we are happier and healthier.
It is a total myth that money brings happiness. Happiness comes to those who live their lives fully, despite their circumstances. It comes to those who treat others with compassion and respect and kindness. And it comes to those who look at their lives and are able to see the blessings, no matter how small.
So, are you living your life fully, showing compassion and respect and kindness to everyone around you, and counting your blessings no matter how small?