Superficial Opulance

Posted: November 1, 2008 in Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality

There is a small shopping center where I go to have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate most mornings. Usually, I sit and watch the people walking by or sit and chat with some of those folks who are familiar to me. Yesterday morning however, as I sat and absently watch traffic I suddenly realized that all of the vehicles had one thing in common: not one of them had white wall tires.  

To some folks that may seem like an unusual thing to notice. Perhaps it is. Still, that’s what caught my eye. As a result, I began looking at the different types of tires on each vehicle as it passed by. Then, one full sized pick up truck passed. It had very large tires meant for off road usage. With that I began noticing the number of trucks and SUV’s which also were designed for off road use, and I started wondering how many of those vehicles had ever actually been driven off road.

Although there is really no way for me know for certain, I’m guessing that not many of those vehicles have ever been driven on anything less than paved roads. So, the question that went through my mind had to do with why a person would purchase an "off road" vehicle but never take it off road. The only answer I could think of was that it was all "just for show."

And that, of course, started a chain of thoughts running through my mind.

We seem to have become a society that has become fixated with the status quo. We’ve become overly concerned with the appearance of material success. And while I can understand the desire to be successful, it seems to me that we have gone overboard with trying to "look" the part. As a result, we’ve become indulgent in superficial opulence and anything else which allows us to look as though we’ve "arrived."

I’m not saying that folks shouldn’t buy those things which make them feel better about themselves. Nor am I saying that if a person can afford nice things that they should deny themselves those things. However, I’m wondering if perhaps being overly focused on material things is one of the barriers we have when it comes to reaching out a hand of compassion to the homeless in our communities.

When we look at the world around us, we tend to notice those folks who are the best dressed; those who have the "glitter" of success. And, quite often, it’s enough to make us "look up" to that person; respect that person; want to be like that person – even if we know absolutely nothing about the person. It doesn’t matter if that person is actually successful or not, just the appearance itself is enough to catch our eye.

This is one of the disadvantages which our nation’s homeless struggle with daily. They don’t have the "look" which makes us think of them as being worthy of our notice. On the contrary, often times their disheveled appearance actually causes us to deliberately avoid looking at them. And, we’ve become so adept at averting our gaze, that it’s become routine for us to see past them as though they’re not even there. For many of us, they are just another part of the scenery; something we see everyday, but which seldom registers in our minds.

I think of some of history’s greatest persons; those who have had a positive impact on society; those who have made the world a better place for all of us and I wonder how we would view them if they had "looked" like they were homeless. We would have given heed to anything they had to say? Or, would we have turned away in disgust simply because they didn’t "look" as though anything they had to say was of any value? Would we have seen them as not having anything to contribute to society just because they didn’t "look" the part?

Admittedly, there are those homeless who epitomize the homeless stereotype. And yes, there are those homeless who have deliberately chosen to exist on the fringes of society. Moreover, there are those homeless who have brought about their own homelessness.

However, there are those homeless persons who are so because of situations and circumstances which they had no control over. Things happened which they were unable to prevent or avoid. Consequently they have found themselves without a home. And with the currently economic climate in this nation, more and more "regular" folks are finding themselves on the streets.

Regardless of why a person is homeless, the underlying reality is that each and every one of them is a person. They are a part of our communities. As such, it is our responsibility to seek ways of helping those who truly want to be helped. It’s our civil duty to provide them with every chance of once again become self-sustaining, productive members of our communities. More than that, it is our moral obligation to afford them every conceivable opportunity to regain their human dignity.

If we can somehow learn to view each homeless person as a unique individual, looking beyond the apparent lack of a perfectly laundered appearance, perhaps then we’d begin making headway at reducing the numbers of folk who are forced to live on the streets of our communities.

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