Yesterday afternoon as I left the library, I sat down on one of the two benches that are just outside the building. As I did I noticed a small self adhesive sticker had been placed on the bench but what caught my eye was what was written on the sticker.
It was a quotation from Mark Twain:
"You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
When I stood up to go on my way, I kept thinking about those words. I reflected that perhaps that is one of the reasons so many people have difficultly reaching out to help a homeless person: they can’t imagine that there is anything beneath the often times grimy exterior. They find it difficult to imagine that under the unkempt appearance is a human being who experiences all of the same emotions that everyone else does.
Most of the time, when we do notice a homeless person we tend to notice them because their panhandling or engaged in – what we consider – some other type of unsavory behavior. But, what we fail to realize is that the majority of the homeless are just like us: they’re just trying to survive day to day. They’re just trying to find a way to make sense of their current lot in life.
The truth is that most of the homeless do not want to be homeless. It is just a small percentage who have chosen homelessness as a lifestyle. Unfortunately, these are the one that seem to take the headlines. These are the ones who seek to abuse the system and take advantage of everyone and everything else. These are the one who lack taking responsibility for their own actions. And, because they are the ones who are in the "spotlight" they are the one who, society in general, believes are indicative of what a homeless person is.
If we were to stop judging the book by its cover, I believe that we would be able to see the humanity that is there in the vast majority of homeless: it’s the same humanity that is in all of us. Then we can have a true chance at helping those homeless who truly want to be helped.
Will there ever come a time when we can see past the surface of homelessness and see the people beneath. I hope so. But, until we do the homeless will continue to be treated like social outcasts. Until we do, we will continue to ignore the pleas from those who seek to help so that they can rise to the level of self-sufficiency.
The late John Lennon wrote:
"Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world"
Perhaps that’s what we need to do: imagine the possibilities.