My daughter saw a man in the middle of a large intersection with the sign "Homeless Jobless". She read the sign was quiet for a while and then began to talk, "Why is he jobless? Why is he asking everyone for help? Why can't he just get a job? We shouldn't help him. Don't give him anything". Then she said, "All homeless people are losers". This gave me pause. Where did she learn this? I never say things like that. I also stop and give when I have. Am I not teaching compassion?
I looked in the rearview mirror and said, "There are a myriad of reasons why that man could be homeless". She said "Well it seems straightforward. You go to work but then they have no jobs and you have kids and they want you to give them money. Aren't they losers for that?". I was proud that she believed in the "American work-ethic", but I was shocked at how cold she was. Knowing that she could understand the complexity of the issue, I began to explain things to her more deeply.
"Some people are homeless because they fought for this country, saw horrible shit and now they can't live in the reality they fought so hard to protect. Some people are homeless because they are mentally ill and need medical attention and for whatever reasons they are not being cared for properly. Some people are homeless because they lost everything because of misfortune or poor decisions or they were prayed upon by bad lenders. Some kids are even homeless because they ran away from abusive parents". ... Silence...
I then said, "Do all these people deserve that broad general statement you just made?". Thoughtfully she replied, "I guess not".
"Broad general statements are often untrue. Would you like it if someone said all black girls behave poorly or are ghetto?". "What's ghetto?", she asked.
"Ghetto is often defined as lowly, loud, raunchy, classless, and base", I explained.
"Oh no I would not like someone to say that."
"Well some people think that about all black girls. You can't make statements like that and also you must feel compassion for others. Especially if you do not know the circumstances that brought them there", I said. We agreed and then proceeded with our afternoon.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working to make life more equitable for all people. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.