Saturday, November 26, 2011

A slight deviation

I want to keep the blog about my art and art related things, but a couple experiences recently compel me to make a slight deviation. I'm going to take a quick time out to mention a couple things not directly art related.

Remember back in the mid-2000's when everyone was talking about how great an investment real estate was? Gotta buy a house. Gotta flip a house. And then what? Lots of peeps got foreclosed on. Lots of peeps lost a lot of money in the stock market. When you turn on the radio, or read the news these days, you hear a lot of stuff about how, economically, we're "starting to recover" from the devastation of 2007-2008. Are we? I suppose that it's possible that we might be, but I've been studying a lot of economics lately, and there's a lot of evidence to suggest that we might not be. In fact, in studying, I have found people who were warning about the housing collapse way before it happened. They are few, and far between, but imagine if all the people who are suffering now had known what would happen ahead of time. Would they be in that situation? Some might be, because some people are just stupid (you can only lead a horse to water), but some might not be because in knowing better, they would have made better choices. Which makes me wonder... if the economy is such a keystone in our everyday lives, why do so many people know almost nothing about economics? It's because of the now general ignorance of the average person that all different kinds of people can get away with all different kinds of evil, and nobody is the wiser. So I would recommend to anyone who is interested in not becoming a hapless victim like the suckers who got foreclosed on and drained a few years ago... study economics! We all get taken advantage of, as a collective, because we don't know hardly anything. Get smart, peeps!

This second deviation, I almost wrote a month ago. Then I almost wrote a week ago. I get fired up, and I want to keep things about art, but it's just too much. I'd like to imagine that, looking at my drawings and paintings, people would get inspired to live and live in the best way possible! I am still at a rudimentary skill level, so the passion for living may not come across, but I am working on it, and so I'll supplement a little with some words here.

What have we become? If one person can look at another person and rationalize them out of existence, what does that make the first person? A monster? An animal? Not human? How many times do we walk past a person on street, in our own neighborhood or community, who is suffering, and don't even consider the plight of the person in front of us? I'm talking about those ever-annoying, always-in-your-way, always-inconveniencing-you-or-making-you-feel-guilty homeless people. Better to just ignore them, right? Otherwise they might guilt you into giving them some money or making you feel like you should help them in some way. Better to rationalize them out of existence. Pretend that they aren't there, or walk past very quickly.

Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like to exist on the streets? Hassled by the police, no place to shower, no place to sit and rest, no place to be safe, hardly a place to use the bathroom, and no place to call home? Wandering around, desperate for help, being ignored by hundreds of people streaming past you with expensive, disposable goods? It's an impossible thing to try to even imagine, I think you can only experience it. My whole life I have had a place to shower and sleep. Most of us will not even attempt to imagine what life in another's shoes is like.

So there on the street is a total stranger. Of course, you shouldn't be bothered to help them. Would you help them if it was your friend? How about your friend's mom? Would you buy your friend's mom a meal if she was going without? What if it was your neighbor? If your neighbor got evicted, would you give them a jacket? How about your own parents? Or your siblings? Would you help them? And this is where the real hypocrisy starts to creep in... I don't want to live in a world filled with homeless people, and I would assume that you don't either, so maybe we should start doing something about it? What if we tried to help people become... not homeless? I realize this is getting pretty radical for the average american at this point.

But I wouldn't even urge you to direct action. (For some people, it doesn't make sense. If you're a petite woman, you shouldn't be approaching packs of homeless men) You should do whatever you feel compelled to do. But I do want to say something about ignoring homeless people, or pretending they don't exist, or rationalizing them out of existence. I used to be very guilty of these behaviors myself and it's one of the few things I am very ashamed of. If you go out of your way to avoid even thinking about the suffering person in your community, you disgust me. You make me angry. In the united states today, it is amazing how much wealth, technology, and everything else we have amassed. We, as a whole, are probably the wealthiest, safest people who have ever walked the face of the planet, and it is too much for us to treat the one in our community who suffers with at least an equal respect for their humanity.

What has compelled me to write this is that I have been making some homeless friends lately. These people do not just carry everything they own on their backs, but they carry larger bags of shame, guilt, and self-loathing. I've had several tell me recently how surprised they are that I am able to treat them as a person. Huh? ARE THEY ANY LESS A PERSON THAN I AM? If you're reading this in the comfort of your home, you've had the good fortune to have opportunities in front of you to have worked for a home, or to be living in one. Somebody doesn't have the same good blessings as you, and so they should be treated as human refuse? Should we just toss these people out? They're not good enough for us?

If you make some sort of excuse in your mind like "They want to be homeless" or "It's their own fault." I have a response for both. First, maybe one in ten thousand wants to be homeless. And sure, some of the exceptionally lazy ones might give a bad reputation to the ones who desperately want out but have fallen on hard times and are caught in the negative feedback loop. What if the person in front of you actually wants a meal? What if they actually need some help? If you actually think that homelessness is so cool that a lot of people aspire to it, I dare you to go live on the streets for a week and see how you like it. If you're not willing to try it out for a week, do the rest of the planet a favor and never think something so poisonous again. All of the homeless people I know have fought like hell to not be homeless and now seem trapped in a hole they can never escape. Second, maybe it is their fault. So what? You've never made a mistake? Should making a mistake that leads to homelessness be the end of a person's life? We should just toss their corpse in a dumpster? Obviously not, so never think that crap again either.

Obvious disclaimers apply here. I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy nice things. I'm not saying you didn't work hard to get to where you are. I'm not saying you should feel guilty or ashamed of accomplishing anything. What I am saying is that we, as a society, need to stop trying to forget that these people are suffering. Putting their suffering out of our minds isn't alleviating any of their pain or suffering, in fact, it is making it worse. There's a great line in "The Constant Gardener" where a character says "We can't help them all!" and the response is "But we can help this one". You may not be able to fix the problem, but each of us helping to fix the problem in front of our face can contribute to the fixing of the problem as a whole. And even if you cannot do anything directly to help fix the problem, at least quit making the problem worse. Quit treating these people as if they aren't human. It's okay to say hello. It's okay to look them in the eye. It's okay to say "No, Thank you" when they ask for some change. You think it's an annoyance? Imagine how much it must suck to have to ask a thousand people for charity so you can eat one meal. Get over yourself. It's not just everyone with money that I want to inspire to better, but also people who have nothing. They should aspire to better with the rest of us. They might need a little help to get there, though. The reality though, is that we all need a little help. So if I'm going to try and inspire homeless people to want to be alive, I'm going to need the rest of you to at least stop treating them as if they're garbage on the sidewalk. That's another person, just like you, with a vastly different (and probably a vastly more horrible) reality. If you don't believe me, talk to one of them. You'll see. Chances are you'll get heartbroken, and then you'll get angry. Angry at all the very self-important people rushing by who are so busy with whatever stupid ass video game or meaningless text message on their phone to pay another person the barest minimum of respect.

Can you get on board with that?

Next time you're out and about, look other people in the eye. Try to imagine somebody else's reality.

Okay, deviation over. Back to the art..

1 comment:

  1. Well put, couldn't agree more wholeheartedly. I have had a fair amount of friends in the past who were homeless and the whole situation is ultimately maddening and frustrating, mostly because we feel helpless towards creating a sustainable solution ..