You know, I like this idea – of “making the homeless visible”.
But something about this video that’s gone viral struck me wrong:
People passing their loved ones on the street probably had a fleeting thought of, “Gee, that looks like Bobby!” followed by the sad thought of “what if he really didn’t have a home?” and then “Gee I’m lucky not to have fallen on hard times” (followed by multitudinous other crap because we think in spaghetti strings, not single sentences).
Next, they have the whole “passing by” thing rubbed in their faces like a dog’s nose in its own shit while the camera zooms in on their horrified reactions that seem to be a cocktail that’s equal parts shame and “Gee. That’s a lot of film, energy, and makeup you just spent to make me look like a dick.”
I’m torn about this piece.
Would a dollar donation or acknowledgment be good? Absolutely. But we’re forgetting a few variables here. First, I’m assuming this filmed stroll took place preceding their arrival at the studio where their reaction would be filmed. If they were on a time constraint to get to the interview – they were likely in a rush and had some tunnel vision of self-conscious anxiety about what they were going to say.
We all like to think we’d be the third coming of Jesus (the second was the Easter thing, right?) in any such hypothetical situation, but let’s be honest. If you were Joe Schmoe on your way to an interview a bunch of people might see on Youtube (because you forwarded it to your friends, family, fifth grade math tutor, and the old guy you rear ended last week who only gave you his info for insurance purposes), you might be slightly self involved, too.
We’re human. And we’re selfish, entitled, and vain sometimes. But as humans, we can acknowledge and alter that if we like.
Also, we people have a subconscious we’re aware of. For example – these interviewees knew they were going to be interviewed about relatives. And, while that one guy may have passed by and thought “Omg, that poor chick resembles my cousin,” the fact that he just saw his cousin fully ensconced in upper class luxury last week is irrelevant. So is the fact that exchanges with those who’ve got less make some feel awkward. The reason he didn’t stop is because of that part of his brain that stepped up and said “1. You’re late for your interview… and 2. You’re just making that facial-similarity-connection because you know they’re gonna ask about your family.”
Then, we’re taught it’s rude to stare.
The homeless get enough shit from asshole kids. If I don’t have any singles to offer while doing a double take wondering if you’re my aunt Sally, I don’t need the added guilt of wondering whether you thought I was judging you like a douche.
I mean, I felt embarrassed today when I mistook a woman eating ice cream with her daughter for someone I went to high school with. I’d feel even worse if I did that to someone without a home.
That said, there’s no excuse I can think of to ignore a human being in need (unless they’re chasing you with inimical intentions and a – ya know -weapon). I used to feel weird about “breaking the ice”. What do you say? So the first time I saw a dude standing outside the Wawa, I just asked him, “Are you alright, man? Is there anything I can offer you? Coffee? Lunch?”
Folks without homes have taught me a thing or two about gratitude. Like, all those birthdays and Christmases where someone gave me a gift and I’ve thought “Meeeh! This isn’t what I asked for!”
Yeah. People with nothing? They don’t generally do that shit when you give.
The man who wanders through my parking lot around noon every weekday, holding a towel with a blue Hindu deity on it (I should know which one, but I’m bad at religious details) never snubs any gifts I offer – whether it’s a couple bucks, some fruit I’ve brought, or just a smile and a wave. He’s been doing that routine for years now.
Maybe that’s what’s missing in this video. It lacks the compassion needed not just for the homeless – but for those blind to their own selfishness. The intention is to entertain viewers by evoking embarrassment or they wouldn’t have recorded it. And shoving a salt laced poker in a person’s character defect wound isn’t going to make them a better man. Shaming me with a hidden camera is going to make me more insecure and defensive than altruistic.
True compassion doesn’t need verbal signifiers.
My parking lot pal with the Krishna cloth doesn’t speak English.
And I don’t speak Hindi.
Still, our exchange is often the best conversation I’ll have all day.