Moral Laziness

Posted: July 8, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

In addition to receiving daily news alerts in my e-mail’s inbox, I make the rounds of the blogosphere and news sites via RSS feeds. It’s an effective way for me to keep up to date with what is going on.

Yesterday on one blog I visited, the author had posted a poem he’d written regarding his being stereotyped by others based purely on his appearance. He rides a motorcycle; has a beard and long hair. But he is also a family man, who loves his children.  

I posted a comment to his poem. My comment was only one sentence long:

"It’s a pity that so many folks allow their views of others to be polluted solely on superficial visual cues and stereotypical thinking."

This is the way the dictionary defines the word polluted,

polluted (a):

  1. Rendered unwholesome by contaminants and pollution

pollute (v):

  1. Make impure

The definition defines the word superficial this way:

superficial (a):

  1. Concerned with or comprehending only what is apparent or obvious; not deep or penetrating emotionally or intellectually
  2. Of, affecting, or being on or near the surface
  3. Of little substance or significance

It’s seems strange to me that so many people tend to think of the homeless as being unwholesome based purely on that person’s appearance. But, isn’t being prejudiced against a person based on stereotypes what is really unwholesome?

One word that so many folks associate with homelessness is the word lazy. That, too, is a stereotype. But isn’t it a bit of laziness itself to assume that because a person is homeless that they are lazy? After all it requires absolutely no effort to believe something about a person based purely on presumptions.

There are folks who believe that the homeless lack intelligence or at least not as smart as everyone else – otherwise if they were smart they wouldn’t be homeless, would they? They would have been able to use their intelligence to avoid becoming homeless in the first place.

But, isn’t our believing that the homeless lack intelligence, in itself a sign of a feeble mindset? It doesn’t take a whole of lot of intelligence to accept stereotypes as being actual reality. What does take intellectual integrity is the willingness to say to ourselves that we might just be wrong: something which so many aren’t willing to admit to when it comes to believing the misconceptions about the homeless.

Another misconception that so many cling to is that the homeless somehow lack moral character. That’s one misconception I could never fully understand. When a person loses their home, they don’t lose the basic core of who they are as a person. They don’t go from being a person of integrity to a person of low or base morality just because they find themselves without a place to live. In fact, there are many homeless I know who are of a higher moral caliber than some of the "fine upstanding pillars" of the community.

When we stereotype the homeless aren’t we showing that we are the ones who lack moral character?

This past Sunday, I read an article on the Nevada Appeal website, One family’s spiral into homelessness, which began with this line:

"I have been told there was once a time when neighbors actually looked out for neighbors, a time when families came together to help those less fortunate than themselves and times when issues in their own backyard set precedence over those elsewhere."

The article was an opinion column written by Steve Graham – a former homeowner and business manager in Carson City, Nevada – who as a result of a series of circumstances found himself becoming homeless along with his wife and children.

It’s peculiar that there is a great deal of the sharing of food and other resources among the homeless themselves – even when there is little to share. Yet, so many of the "fine upstanding" members of the community are reluctant and even sometimes adamant not to give a homeless person some spare change – or even offer them something to eat – despite having the ability to do so.

We can make any number of excuses we want for not helping the homeless. But, that’s all they are: empty excuses. We can exempt ourselves from showing compassion by clinging to stereotypes. We can justify and even condone our lack of willingness to provide the types of assistive programs that could potentially help the homeless help themselves. We can forgive ourselves for our mistreatment of the homeless. And, yes, we can even blame it on the homeless themselves.

But it doesn’t make it right.

I wonder…

When we fail to get involved and do something positive to help the homeless, aren’t we exhibiting a type of moral laziness?

  1. papahere says:

    Michael…As I increase my understanding of the right brain, I have learned it is the source of empathy…not only the feelings of empathy but it also motivates us to understand more deeply people.

    The right brain is our feminine side which suggests this quality is more frequent in women…I suspect this is consistent with your experiences with those offering assistance.


  2. AnAmerican says:

    Yes indeed..there is a good bit of moral laziness in this day and time. There is also a good bit of fear…and out of fear comes generalizations and stereotypes. How many stereotypes would we cast aside if we had the moral consciousness to take the time to find out more about our homeless citizens? Your education on the topic of homelessness does so much good in educating folks about the grave misconceptions that our society has about this topic..thank you!

  3. michael says:

    Papa –
    I agree that women have a tendency to be more able to express compassion than men, however – based on personal experience – when it comes to the homeless, I found that it is pretty much equal between the genders.

    Also, much of how a person will view, and subsequently behave toward the homeless, is largely influenced by what they believe about the homeless. If they have accepted the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding homelessness, their ability to empathize will be pre-empted.

    – m –

  4. michael says:

    AnAmerican –
    Thank you for pointing out that there is much fear regarding the homeless.

    Someone once said that people fear that which they do not understand.

    One of the most unique definitions for the word “fear” I’ve ever heard was this:


    – m –

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