Perception Adjustments

Posted: April 4, 2008 in Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Stereotypes

It’s been a long day. Well… that’s not exactly true. Strictly speaking it’s been the same length as any other day: 24 hours is 24 hours no matter what.

It would probably be more accurate to say it seemed longer than yesterday. There are two reasons for that. First, there were a number of things with occurred almost all at once, so life was a bit more hectic that usual. Second, I was up till the wee hours of the morning, so I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have.

The reason I went to bed late is because of one word: Republic.  

Yesterday night, after I published my post, I answered some email, took a shower and then crawled into bed. Probably because I had quoted its last six words in the post, I had the Pledge of Allegiance going around in my head. I remembered the many times I had recited it while in elementary school. Then the word Republic stood out. I realized I really didn’t really know what they word meant. I had somewhat of an idea what the word meant, but I wasn’t absolutely certain.

I had always thought – had perceived, as it were – the word as meaning a free democratic country. But then I thought about Russia; we used to call it the USSR which stood for: Union of Soviet Socialists Republics. Then there is the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

After a few more minutes along that line of thinking, I found myself crawling out of bed, turning on the computer and trying to find out what the word meant. I had to see if my perceptions were correct.

The dictionary said…

  • A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them.

  • A nation that has such a political order.

… and further told me that it has its root in the Latin word respublica, which means "of the people."

The encyclopedia said:

Republic (government), form of state based on the concept that sovereignty resides in the people, who delegate the power to rule to elected representatives and officials. In the theoretical republican state, republic and democracy may be identical. However, historical republics have never conformed to a theoretical model, and the term republic is freely used by dictatorships, one-party states, and democracies alike.

With that I crawled back into bed. But, then I started wondering what people who live under dictatorships or communist ruled countries believe a republic to be.

And, because of the way my mind works, I started thinking about how people will respond to the world around them based on their perceptions – regardless of whether what they perceive is true or false.

One of the largest social obstacles that homeless people face is how their community perceives them. These perceptions are usually based on misconceptions and stereotypes. I’m not saying that some of the homeless don’t fit the stereotypical view of homelessness. They do. But, there are just as many homeless who don’t.

The demographic of homelessness is just as diverse as the American population is.

The homeless come in all shapes and sizes, age groups, religious and political affiliations, educational backgrounds and so on. In many ways it could be said that the homeless population is just a cross section of the overall American population. Yet, the persistent view of the homeless is of a person who is too lazy to work, or someone who is a wino or drug user and the like.

Perhaps part of this idea of homelessness comes from the fact, that those homeless who do fit the stereotypes are the ones the general public sees the most.

The homeless who don’t fit the stereotype are seldom recognized as being homeless because they aren’t just laying around dirty, smelly and drunk or high. They’re too busy trying to find a way off of the streets. They try maintaining as neat an appearance as their circumstances will allow. Many of them have full or part time employment. They are pretty much doing what the rest of us are doing: trying to make a better life for themselves. As a result, their homelessness isn’t as apparent as that of those who do fit the homeless stereotype.

The danger of the stereotype is that breeds discrimination and prejudice based on limited understanding and perceptions. Because we perceive the homeless to be "worthless" and lazy, we aren’t willing to make donations of our hard earned money toward those who don’t want anything more than lay around and do nothing. That’s perfectly understandable. But, we’re not seeing the whole picture.

The problem is that we seldom look beyond our perceptions. This in turn doesn’t allow us to see those who do not fit the typical view of homelessness. And that precludes us from actually providing the types of resources that could actually help those who so desperately want to be delivered from homelessness.

In her book, Patterns of Culture, anthropologist Ruth Benedict wrote,

"No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking."

I found it interesting that she used the word "edited."

The word "edit" means to "… correct, modify, revise or adapt"

The wonderful thing about editing something is that it can always be "re-edited."

Now, if we could only re-edit our general perceptions regarding the homeless, we might begin making headway at helping reduce the numbers of people who daily suffer the indignity of having no place to call "home."


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