I Fucking Hate this Video


And, I don’t hate it because of what it shows about humanity or some such bullshit like that.

I hate this video, and all other similar videos/essays/etc. which “bring awareness” to a problem without any proposed solution, or even an in depth understanding of what the problem actually is. I hate videos which use musical scores to “go for the onion,” as my dad would say. (Going for the onion means using some gimmick as a means to generate an artificial emotional response, similar to how cutting onions makes you cry in a situation where you wouldn’t normally feel sad.) And, I fucking HATE videos which lead me to feeling guilty and sad, but any expression of this in liberal culture would lead to some smug, white, liberal dmfb telling me to “sit” with my emotions. My Zen instructors and my therapist are allowed to tell me to sit with my emotions, everyone else can go get lost.

So, here’s the big question which was not addressed in this video. Why didn’t those people stop? That’s the problem that needs fixing.

I know why those people didn’t stop, because I am often one of those people. I have walked by homeless people who have fallen down, people on the ground coughing and in pain, and not stopped to help. Why did I do this?

Backing up a few years, I moved to downtown San Francisco which is basically homeless person capital of the USA. I knew I would be living in very close proximity to a large number of homeless people – I am on the same block as multiple temporary housing establishments for people who don’t have permanent residences. When I moved in, I don’t know exactly what I expected to see, but that somehow the naturally open and generous nature of my spirit would cary me through my interactions.

What I actually saw was fear.

I used to talk to homeless people more. I remember reading once that one of the most painful things about being homeless was that people just ignored you, so I always made it a point to look one of them in the eyes and say “I’m sorry, not today,” if I didn’t have any money to give them. Soon, I started specifically *not* carrying money because I would give it all away too quickly, and often tried to avoid eye contact. And, soon after that, I started wearing headphones and sunglasses so they wouldn’t know I was ignoring them. I started resenting them for their demands on my attention, and I started dehumanizing them in my mind by seeing obstacles not people.

When I walk by a homeless person on the ground, I look for blood. But, I try not to look too long because often they are just sleeping, and some of them don’t like to be stared at. Once, when I was looking at a sleeping man, a friend of his started bitching me out for being a judgmental white woman. “Bitch, thinks it couldn’t happen to her, who’s she to judge?”

Once, a friend and I actually saw blood. We stood there talking about what to do, should we call an ambulance? He almost definitely didn’t have insurance, and we weren’t sure what would become of him in the hospital. In the end, we did call the ambulance, and they took him away – but, we were uneasy about it. We weren’t sure we’d done the right thing. If I’d been fairly sure he would have survived without the ambulance, I wouldn’t have called it.

I’ve also seen many homeless people passed out, drugged out, who have ended up being ok. About one night a week, the entrance to my building shelters a passed out person, smoking up god knows what. I will literally step over unconscious bodies to get inside. Sometimes, the person apologizes in a half-awake way and I’ll say “Don’t worry about it.” They’re always gone by morning, and there’s never been a fuss, so I assume none of them have actually died. I’m not quite sure what happens when a homeless person dies, but I imagine it takes some amount of effort to remove them – enough, that I’d notice if it was happening regularly outside my building.

I have *never* seen a businessman pass out in the street. Not once, not even a drunk one.

Additionally, often when I *do* stop to talk to homeless people, I don’t know any reasonable action to take. I have tried to buy food for people who were unable to articulate what type of food they wanted. I have talked to people, who wanted to keep hugging me over and over – to the point that I felt uncomfortable. Sometimes, when I try to be friendly, I am met with sexually aggressive behavior. I rarely stop for young, male homeless men unless they immediately demonstrate a strong understanding of boundaries (demonstrated with phrases like “Excuse me, miss,” or “Do you have a minute?”) These polite, young men are not usually the ones passed out. It’s usually the ones muttering nonsense, often with some substance. The type of people who remind me of the man who punched my friend, the type of people who I’m worried might try to punch me.

So, to summarize, why don’t I stop for trampy looking people? Because, I see them in pain all the time, but I have never seen one die. Because I don’t know what to do – who to call? The police, the hospital? Because I am afraid for myself, for my own boundaries, my own sexuality, and my own safety.

What are actual steps we could take to fix this?

– Have a resource in mind to call when worried about someone’s safety. (Actually, I’m going to contact my Zen instructor and ask if she has any ideas about this one because she works with homeless people.)

– If you are with a group, make more of an effort to stop, because people may be too afraid if they are alone.

That’s all I got. Like I said, I said, I don’t know how to solve this, and I struggle with it *every day* and this video gave me absolutely *no tools* to help.

I fucking hated that video.

Self Absorption and the Homeless

One of my friends regularly tells me I’m too self absorbed, which is probably a fair point. I think about myself a lot.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that often the people accusing me of being self absorbed seem to be suffering from a similar affliction themselves. In a way, it would make sense – the most self absorbed people would be the most annoyed about not getting as much attention as they would like in a conversation. They also may be the least likely to see that, sometimes, people have good reasons for being self absorbed.

One time I tend to be very self absorbed is when I see homeless people on the street. There are a lot of homeless people asking for money where I live, and when I see them, I will often go out of my way to walk out of their line of site so they will not see me. Sometimes, I will pretend like I didn’t hear them talk to me so it won’t be “awkward,” even though deep down we both know I did. Or, I will dismiss them with a quick “no, I’m sorry” or just give them a dollar and quickly get on my way. I feel afraid when I see them in the street, even though I know they won’t hurt me. I’m afraid of the confrontation that may ensue.

And I know that, more than money, often what they just need is a little recognition. One of the most painful things, I’ve been told, about being homeless it that people just ignore you as if you were completely worthless. I know this. I know that, ideally, even if I can’t give someone money that by giving them the same attention and respect I’d give anyone else, I am giving them the message “I see you, and you are worthwhile,” and I know that is a message many homeless people need to hear. Despite the fact that I know all this, I still regularly ignore homeless people.

Two days ago, a young and articulate homeless man stopped me on the street. He thanked me for my time, and asked me if I’d get him something to eat which I did. After talking to him further, I bought him a razor, some deodorant and soap at a local Walgreens because he said his lack of grooming was hurting him during his job interviews. He told me he felt bad about asking for what he needed, and I told him not to – that it was a joy to give to someone when I felt appreciated and respected. We parted ways with a hug, and I ignored all the other homeless people who talked to me on the way home.

I am able to occasionally engage with homeless people now, usually by chatting with them. But, I had to forgive myself for ignoring them first. I used to criticize myself all the time – how selfish I was! How much pain they were in, and I would willingly buy myself a latte, and not spare 50 cents for a starving person. What did that say about me? What type of selfish, self absorbed person was I? Thing was, that whole line of reasoning was too painful for me to go down often. So, usually, I would avoid the homeless and not engage with them so I didn’t have to confront these uncomfortable thoughts about what type of person I was.

However, eventually I came to forgive myself for ignoring the homeless people on my Starbucks run, and a funny thing happened. The more I was able to forgive myself for ignoring homeless people, the more I was able to engage with them. When my head was not filled with self-criticism, or actively involved with suppressing it, I had room to listen to them. Every time I have made the space to listen to a homeless person, they have been profoundly grateful. I can now see I was not avoiding them because I was selfishly hoarding my money – I was avoiding them because it is emotionally difficult to engage with someone in that much pain. I could give every homeless person I see in a day 50 cents, no problem, but I can’t take on that much of their experience without becoming profoundly depressed myself. So now, I do what I need to do. If I have the time, and emotional energy, I will talk to a homeless person – see what they need, and if it’s something I am able to give. And if not, that’s ok too.

I’m still working on it. I’ve noticed that the ones I help the most are the nicest and most articulate homeless people, and that probably the ones in greater need of help are some of the more difficult ones. But, I also know I’m not there yet. I’m still too full of ego to engage with someone who can’t moderate themselves for me, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be self absorbed. Because you can’t just replace self absorption with compassion magically, you have to give yourself what you need first.