Everyday on my way to university I walk past at least 4 homeless people begging for money. As a compassionate girl I feel horrible not being able to give them something everyday. As a result, I often try to dehumanise these people, never looking directly at them, pretending they are not my equals.
Thinking about the fact that I do this makes me feel sick, how can one human being judge another and take away their humanity, without having an understanding of that person and their story? What gives me the right to pretend that this person doesn’t deserve my help, simply because I feel guilty that I can’t help them?
I remember expressing the guilt I feel about not being able to give to all of the homeless people I see, to a close friend and what he said, although does not relieve my guilt, had some truth to it. I’m a university student working towards being educated and qualified to fight for the rights of the disadvantaged in our community. I have to find a balance between helping in the little ways I can at this moment in my life, and ensuring that one day I can help so much more.
But the question that then comes to mind is what can I do? If I can’t always afford to give every homeless person I see some money what should I be doing?
Perhaps the simple answer is exactly the opposite of what I have been doing. The simple action I can perform for these people is to give them back their humanity. Imagine for a second that you are in their situation. You’re sitting on a busy street, hundreds of people walk past you everyday, every so often a coin is dropped in front of you, but not once does anyone look directly at you. Not once does anyone look you in the eyes and acknowledge that on a simple human level you are their equal. Surely that would be the most humiliating parts of being in that position.
I can’t always give money but surely I can give these people their humanity back.
For this reason I have set myself a challenge and I challenge anyone who reads this to do the same. When you walk past a homeless person, don’t avoid eye contact because you feel uncomfortable about your relative situations. Look them in the eyes and acknowledge that you are both human beings. Smile at them because if anyone deserves your smile, it’s someone who has little else. Say hello and show that as a stranger you still care. When you give money to a homeless person, look them in the eyes while you do it, smile at them and show them you are proud to be giving them that money. Do these things because they deserve to maintain their humanity, despite your guilt, fear, disdain or disinterest.
-The Compassionate Girl
While thinking about this, I came across this blog post about some beautiful interactions between a photographer and some homeless people. I recommend having a look: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/who-am-i/my-homeless-project/