Posted: February 28, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

It was in the new yesterday: William F. Buckley Jr. had died. He was 82.

I always enjoyed watching his talk show "Firing Line." I enjoyed reading his works. Mostly, I enjoyed that he didn’t seem to care all that much about being politically correct, yet managed to project a constant civilized manner.  

I used to love watching him debate people who had views different than his. But, he seemed to maintain an open mind. His presence never demanded respect. Rather it commanded it. Because of that and also because of his extensive vocabulary, he was a master at making his "opponents" squirm – which he seemed to enjoy with impish delight. Yet, he was never mean spirited, even while disagreeing with someone else.

I thought about that throughout the day as I went about my business…

The word "civil" at its most basic can be defined as, "not rude" or, better yet, "not mean spirited."

It makes me think about the way which the homeless are treated by the majority of folks within the community. They are treated with disdain, contempt, scorn, and even viewed with suspicion. They are made to feel as though they are unworthy of even the most basic kindness. The truth is that the homeless are generally not treated with civility by most people.

Some people actually see the homeless as savage barbarians. But, I wonder who is really behaving savagely.

When we close our eyes to the suffering of the homeless, are we behaving civilized? When we try to induce the homeless to "leave town" by enacting laws and ordinances that penalize them because of their homelessness, aren’t we being uncivil? When we shout obscenities at them, aren’t we showing ourselves to be lacking in humanity?

It seems to me hypocritical for us to think of ourselves as being a highly civilized society when our own actions point otherwise.

Maybe we should be honest with ourselves and admit that we are only selectively civilized.

We seem to behave kindly only to those who we view as being equal to or better than ourselves. Thus we behave civilized. But because we think of the homeless as being beneath us, it never occurs to us that they are entitled to be treated with civility.

The crime is that we have become ingenious at justifying our mistreatment of the homeless. We forgive and excuse our uncivilized attitude toward the homeless by telling ourselves that they are lazy; or drug addicts; or alcoholics; or otherwise unworthy of our compassion. And, whenever there is a negative news article or broadcast about the homeless, we enthusiastically point at it and say: "See? I told you so."

Sir John Lubbock said,

"What we see depends mainly on what we look for."

Perhaps if we were a bit more diligent at trying to see the humanity in our community’s homeless, we’d be a bit more willing to reach out a helping hand.

That would certainly be the civilized thing to do.

  1. AnAmerican says:

    I also share your admiration for Buckley.

    Civility isn’t something that is currently in vogue in any sector of the population. Sadly, people have all but lost the art of being respectful to others and have adopted an attitude of self absortion and preoccupation with only their very small part of this world. I see this daily & it never fails to shock me at how truly horrible we treat people who have done nothing to invoke this reaction.

    Seems we have forgotten that good ole golden rule of “treat people as you would want to be treated” somewhere along the way ~ this is the most essential concept for human rights.

    “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
    Matthew 7:12


    I couldn’t agree with you more with regards to the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, it seems that we’re only willing to believe in it if we’re the ones who are the recipents.

    – m –

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