Confession time, I judge homeless people. Seeing a panhandler on the side of the freeway, my first instinct is to look at their shoes. I try to find a chink in their homeless armor so I can feel better about judging them. Judging people is so easy to do and it almost seems like an innate action but it most certainly isn’t, it is learned. We are not born judging.
So how can I move on from this automatic judgement and be a better human? I have several strategies I am employing. For one, I have volunteered my time to homeless shelters to get a better understanding of those who I am so quick to judge. Doing this makes them more human to me. It also helps me understand their personal struggles with substance abuse and mental health (the majority of the homeless people I have helped/met have all suffered from both of these diseases).
My second strategy was recently learned. I was backcountry hiking this past week. We pitched tents. We made our food over a small fire. My sleeping pad deflated and I had to sleep on a hard surface which was not comfortable. My sleeping bag had very little fill on the bottom, so the earth sucked the heat from me and I was uncomfortably cold. I had to go to the bathroom in the forest. As I “struggled” each night, and internally complained, it dawned on me that these were similar struggles that a homeless person might encounter every night (not to mention a bevy of other dangerous challenges they have).
The more I thought about it, the more I noticed the similarities, and the gaps. There are literally thousands of homeless humans camping in various parts of Seattle. If you go east by say 30-60 minutes, you will find many people doing the same thing, who are not homeless, who post about their hiking “adventures” online (I do too), who are celebrated for doing something very similar. Homeless people are camping too, but their camping trip is permanent, and they do not have a Discovery Pass like we do. When we camp, we fear bears and mountain lions, when they camp they fear criminals and authorities and whatever demons live in their mind.
The next time I see a homeless person, instead of judging them, I am going to use this strategy to understand them better. I am going to pretend that I am going camping, but my hiking shoes are too small and they have holes and leak. My socks are mismatched and my feet are swollen from walking and standing so much. I forgot my food, so I will have to forage. My tent is solid but my sleeping bag was left behind so I will need to improvise. The forest is filled with voices and demons that I have to constantly battle. I have a pain in my hip that makes it hard to walk. My camping trip will never end.
I am going to work on not judging homeless people. I am going to treat them like I treat other campers I encounter, with a wave and mutual respect for the challenges we both encountered to get where we are at. Wish me luck!
Do you have any strategies that you employ that you want to share?