I have a question about maintaining empathy in this capitalist hellscape. I live in NYC and there are homeless people everywhere. I can remember being a kid and having huge amounts of sympathy for the homeless in my hometown; I always gave some of my allowance money if I walked by a homeless person, or asked a parent for a dollar to give. Now I’m 27, have lived in NYC for 2+ years, and have lost so much sympathy for the suffering of the homeless.I know logically that I should be much more sympathetic to their situation, but I also can’t help but think they are such a nuisance. I almost never give them a spare dollar. I just can’t afford it. I loathe them for inconveniencing me with their shouting and their stench. I think that if they’ve reached the point of needing to beg strangers for help, they must have alienated all of their loved ones; I’d never be in that position. If the people who love them won’t help them, why should I?But logically I know that’s not true. I could be in that place with just a few family tragedies. It’s this internal battle I deal with every day on my commute: I dehumanize these people, I feel guilty and logically know I’m wrong. I do nothing to help. I want to stop dehumanizing the homeless because I know it’s wrong, and because I know I can do better for them and society can do better for them. What can be done? How do I get over being annoyed and repulsed every time a homeless person inconveniences me?
This is an anonymous question we received on our Tumblr. And… it’s a doozy.
It takes a rare person to be this self-aware, pragmatic, and compassionate. The last thing I want to do is submit this person for public shaming for finding homeless people “annoying” and repulsive. Instead, I want to applaud them for doing something rather difficult: staring straight into the heart of one of our collective societal failures and searching for a solution.
We tend to equate poverty with moral inferiority. And so it can be easy to look at homeless people and dismiss them as individual moral failures. They’re people who’ve fucked up so bad they have to live in a cardboard box, right? I want to challenge that dark individualism.
So let’s talk about homelessness.