Pride Or Shame?

Posted: June 3, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

Here’s an interesting question that was asked of me just recently,

"Why isn’t there a real awareness toward the homeless?"

I wonder though, if perhaps isn’t actually lack of awareness. Perhaps it’s more a lack of willingness to actually have an open dialogue about it.  

Right now, there is talk about the Presidential candidates. There is also a lot of talk about the war in Iraq. The economy too, is high on the list of things people are talking about. There is talk about a food shortage. There are the natural disasters that have been happening, not only here in the U.S., but all around the world, which folks are talking about. And then of course, everyone is talking about the scandalous price of gasoline.

Homelessness just isn’t high on the list. In fact, it may not even be on the list at all. But, even if it were, what would be said? That the homeless should get jobs? That the homeless are at fault for their own predicaments? That they are winos, drunks, drug addicts, lazy bums and good-for-nothing’s?

At the same time, I don’t think that there is a total lack of awareness about the homeless as much as there is a lack of awareness of why there are so many who are homeless and what can be done to reduce those numbers.

With the economy the way it is, I’m sure that homelessness is on the mind of quite a few people – or at least the possibility that they themselves might become homeless if things get worse. But, I’m also sure that it’s not something that they are willing to talk about to their friends and neighbors. To be sure, a husband and wife may talk about it between themselves. But to other people? Probably not. These folks will just "stress out" about it in silence.

The sad thing about it is that it would probably be to their benefit if they did talk about to their family and friends. Talking about it before it actually happens could potentially create the type of solutions needed to prevent if from occurring.

So, why won’t they mention it to their family and friends?

I’m sure there are some folks who would say that it’s a matter of pride. I disagree.

Rather, it has to do with shame.

While that may seem like the same thing, take it from someone who has lived through it, they are most certainly two different things. Admittedly the difference is a subtle one, but they are different nonetheless.

The dictionary defines pride as:

  1. A feeling of self-respect and personal worth
  2. Satisfaction with your (or another’s) achievements

It defines shame as:

  1. A painful emotion resulting from an awareness of inadequacy or guilt
  2. A state of dishonor

The fact of the matter is that many persons with a healthy sense of self-esteem lose their own self-respect when they become homeless or when they think they’re about to become homeless. Even when their homelessness is brought about by circumstances beyond their control, there is a sense of guilt at not being able to provide for themselves; not being able to prevent their homelessness. This sets up internal personal barriers which can limit their reaching out to others for assistance.

I wonder though.

Would a person who becomes homeless experience that same level of shame if we, as a society, were less intolerant of the homeless? If we were a little more compassionate; a little more willing to offer a helping hand; less prone to viewing them through the eyes of misconceptions and stereotypes, might that lessen the feelings of inadequacy that most homeless people feel?

What if we treated the homeless with a little more human dignity? Might that provide them with enough self-confidence and self-worth to motivate them to do everything they could to raise their standard of living?

I also wonder: since it’s the homeless who are feeling the shame, is it possible that it’s we who are exhibiting the pride when we don’t reach out a hand of compassion? When we see a homeless person and we ignore them, aren’t we thinking ourselves as better than they?

I may be a simple man, but I do know this: when you consider the large numbers of homeless in our nation, as a society we have absolutely nothing to be proud about.

  1. Rashad says:

    When you say “there is talk”, maybe you mean amongst the people you know but perhaps you mean from the news. Certainly homelessness hasn’t made news stories that I’ve seen on tv but that isn’t too big a deal, since I don’t trust mass media much anyways. I recently (very recently) started looking into what my city does for its homeless and am still piecing through the many (mostly faith-based) organizations. The question would then be: why didn’t I know about it before? What would it take for citizens to learn about it, other than that they attend a church that is active in helping the homeless?

    Like I said, I just began considering this but I know it would be easy to raise awareness at my local high schools since I graduated only a year ago. Those students would do a lot given the opportunity. That… is the best I’ve got so far. If you have any ideas please let me know!


    You hit the proverbial nail on the head… when I said “there is talk” it was talk about everything except homelessness… and that’s why you haven’t heard about it, which is why you didn’t “know about it before.”

    To answer your second question about what it would take for citizens to learn about homelessness, I suggest you visit the websites of some of the national homeless advocacy groups. You can find links to their sites on my “Links” page.

    – m –

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