Pre-conditioned Responses

Posted: September 21, 2008 in Children, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness

I have to admit that I often times despair about how we, as a nation, have been "dealing" with homelessness. And, I believe the fact that we are "dealing" with homelessness is, in and of itself, the biggest problem.  

We tend to forget that homelessness is a human issue. It is about people – not "things." Subsequently, we lose sight of what it and what isn’t important. As a result, we are not having, what could be considered, even the slightest amount of genuine success at reducing the numbers of homeless on our city streets. Saddest of all is that we could be having a great deal of success at helping end homelessness. I truly believe we have the potential to have a positive impact at helping our homeless re-integrate back into our communities. Yet, for some reason, we’re not living up to that potential.

To be sure, city after city, all across the nation are designing and implementing their own version of a 10 year plan to end homelessness in their community. But, anyone who has been reading my posts already know that I personally believe that none of these plans are geared toward significantly reducing the numbers of homeless. If anything, these 10 year plans are pretty much cosmetic and nothing more. They really do nothing to help those who would be able to become self-sustaining with just a small amount of assistance.

While I believe that there are numerous folks who do care about helping the homeless, the sad truth is that there that many more who don’t really give a damn. And that lack of concern – and often times, the disdain and contempt we show – for the homeless seems to have become habitual on our parts; a pre-conditioned response, if you will. We behave negatively toward the homeless almost by rote… and that’s where we lose track of a certain reality: the homeless, despite not having a place to call home, are people just like ourselves.

The thing that really concerns me though is that, as adults, we should – and we do – know better. It doesn’t matter how much we may feel unkindly toward the homeless, deep down inside we know that we should be showing compassion; we know that we should be extending a helping hand. Yet, the moment we see a homeless person, all of the prejudices we have toward them (prejudices based on misconceptions) come flooding to the surface. Consequently we behave in accordance to those prejudices – even when we know we shouldn’t.

Additionally, there is a deeper concern I have with how we treat our homeless. That concern has to do with our children.

I’m pretty certain that most parents want what is best for their children. And, I’m sure that most parents hope that their children will grow up to be good, honest and decent people. To that end, parents try teaching and instilling in their children certain moral values.

But children also learn from our example. Moreover, they most times emulate our behavior.

Now consider this: what example are your children learning with regards to the homeless?

Are they being taught compassion for their fellow human beings? Or are they learning how to treat others with contempt? Are they being taught to show kindness to someone in need? Or, are they being taught to disregard the pain and sufferings of others? Are they learning to love? Or, are they learning to hate?

The lessons that our children learn from us now, are the manner in which they will live the rest of their lives.

As an adult, think about the way you behave toward the homeless. Would you be proud of your children or your grandchildren if they behaved in the same manner?

If not, then why do you behave toward the homeless the way you do?

Could it be that you’ve been pre-conditioned in your way of thinking? And, would you want that pre-conditioning to be passed on to your children, grandchildren, or even, your great-grandchildren?

Lastly, consider this: since the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, isn’t it in our best interest to ensure that they grow to be people of strong moral character? After all, they are the ones who are going to have to fix all of the things we’ve screwed up… and that will take quite a lot of moral character.

  1. A Grandmother says:

    Your words are so right. We must teach ourselves and the children love, not hate.
    Today (according to Annie Lennox) is Peace Day. I didn’t know that when I looked at her website, but I watched her inspiring video, and she talked about making a small gesture toward that Peace.
    Combining what you and she advocate, I will try harder to reach out in days to come, and be mindful of what I teach my, and all, children.


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