Posted: February 29, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

It’s probably a safe bet to say that every culture has their traditions.

Some traditions are older than others. Some are recent. Some traditions are good. Some are not so good. And, some traditions can actually be harmful. That’s just the way life is.  

The dictionary defines the word tradition this way,

tradition (n):

  1. An inherited pattern of thought or action

  2. A specific practice of long standing

One tradition that we have is "leap day."

Every four years we add an extra day onto the end of February. In fact, today was leap day. (Am I smart or what?)

The reason that we add the extra day is because of the way our calendar is set up. Our "normal" year is 365 days long. However, our calendar year doesn’t really line up with the solar year. The solar year is the amount of time it takes for the Earth to orbit the Sun one complete cycle.

According to the page, "Earth: Planet Profile" on the NASA/JPL website, it takes the Earth 365.26 days to make one complete orbit about the Sun. That means that our calendar is shorter than the solar year by about 6 hours and 9 minutes. So, after four years, the Earth is roughly 24 hours and 36 minutes "behind" where it should be.

Actually the Earth doesn’t really get behind, it’s just that we humans aren’t clever enough to figure out how to make our calendars keep synchronized time with the rest of the solar system. So we cheat and add the extra day so that we’ll be in time with the rest of nature. Which is probably a good idea, because after a couple of generations we could be having summer at the wrong time of year – or at least based on the calendars we use.

The thing is that we’ve become so accustomed to adding in that extra day every fours years that we hardly take the time to consciously think about why we do it. It’s just a traditional thing we do. For most of us, that’s the way it’s always been done so we just accept it.

We’ve adhered to some traditions for so long that we often mistake them as being part of the laws of nature. That’s not good.

I wonder if that may be part of the problem with the way we view homelessness?

Can it be that we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the homeless through the eyes of prejudice, that we are unwilling to reassess our views when it comes to homelessness? We’ve spent so much time believing and accepting the stereotypes of homelessness that we just assume that our beliefs about homelessness are the correct ones. It’s almost a type of blind faith on our parts. It’s actually become a tradition for us to think of homeless people as drunks, winos and other types of derelicts.

We traditionally think of the homeless as being lazy and unwilling to work. And because of this "tradition" we’ve blinded ourselves to a certain reality: the homeless come from all walks of life; from every social and political background; from every religious conviction; every ethnic background; and they come from EVERY age group. In short, the homeless are just as much John Q. Public as folks who have a place to call home.

I think that when it comes to our homeless, we need to start a new tradition. It would be based on compassion, tolerance and a willing to lend a helping hand. But it would require us to leave our old concepts, stereotypical thinking and prejudices in the garbage can where they belong.

We clamor about the need to "do something about the homeless" but what we really mean is that we want them to go elsewhere. It never occurs to us that that is not a solution.

We demand that the homeless be responsible for themselves, but we aren’t willing to create the opportunities for them to do so.

We want them to behave in a seemly manner, but we’re just as happy to treat them in unseemly and vile manners.

We want them to be respectable, but we treat them disrespectfully.

Professor of Special Education and New York Times best selling author, Leo Buscaglia said,

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

Wouldn’t it be a better world for all of us, if the most important tradition we followed was one of showing compassion to all of our fellow human beings?

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