July 10, 2012

Western (Twisted) Logic

Old Beggar, Louis Dewis (1916)
Last week, I was enjoying the beautiful weather outside on my lunch break. I work at a coffee shop downtown, surrounded by large government offices, law firms, fancy restaurants and luxury hotels.

I remember sitting outside in my barista uniform, surrounded by many well to-do adults: graduate students, civil servants, retired couples, tourists... Everyone was in their own bubble, looking busy and/or indifferent to the people around them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an old man  walking towards where I was. He was short and slightly hunchbacked. He had a long, apparently filthy beard and was dressed in rags. Without knowing who he was, everyone knew what he was. A homeless person. Or, as some would say, a hobo.

I could see about 20 people staring at him, most of whom I knew were professionals. People stared as he walked towards the garbage can. People stared as he took the lid away. People stared as he went through the content of the garbage, and took a banana peel. People stared.

The scene was rather shocking. How could so many people bear the sight of this poor man degrading himself so as to look for food out of a public garbage can? How could we just stare at him?

I felt indignant and ashamed. How can people who have a well-paying job, a house, a car and a retirement plan just watch this humble man and not feel personally called to give a hand to a person in a degrading situation?

We are often very judgmental and indifferent towards people who live on the streets.

If you are not convinced, watch for how many people will pass by a beggar without even looking at him when you go downtown. How degrading, disrespectful and devaluing that must be! If you ask anyone whether all humans are equal in worth and value, chances are the answer you will get is yes. Most of us will agree to that statement. But do we live up to it?

Beggars, who are, by definition, beggars, and do not have a home of their own or food for tomorrow, seem to be often perceived as thieves, trying to use your hardly-earned money for the sole purpose of buying drugs. Some consider them completely responsibile for being on the streets, like it was their career choice or something.

It is true that some of them may use charity money for drugs, but this situation only highlights their misery, and should make us more compassionate. But is this an excuse to not give? We don't have to give money, we can give goods, such as food. Besides, some of them are completely sober, and do not misuse the money they are given.

Our reasoning seems to be an excuse to not take action, most of the time. But beyond our assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes, there is much to learn and discover.

The times I have had talking with people living on the streets have been some of the most enriching in my whole life. They taught me so much about how they conceive and live life. They gave me a perspective on the world I had never had before.They opened up to me and gave me more than I gave them, it seems.

Instead of suspecting the worst, we should hope for the best.
Compassion. Love. Generosity. That's what's truly important.

 In what practical ways can we help the people who live on the streets? There are many ways we can give them assistance in a safe and respectful way.

I think that's what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves. If a brother, another human being, is needy, we should try to meet their needs.

Remember the old man who was going to eat the banana peel?
Someone walked up to him and gave him lunch.

Portrait of Sir Francis Ford's Children Giving a Coin
to a Beggar Boy,  Sir William Beechey (1793)


  1. Hello! This post are great! you are very beautyful! Lets follow each other. If you agree let me know!

  2. It is incredible to see how differences in this society lead to rejection. People don't always fit the mold (economically or in other aspects), and that's what make our world interesting and in constant movement. We have to accept and help those in need, without judging them. Great post, Alex.

  3. Nice post! Very thoughtful and thought provoking. My parents are really inspirational because they carry premade lunches in their cars for this reason. Thanks for the post and the lovely image to accompany. As someone with an Art History minor I particularly loce the Beechey :)

  4. You write very beautifully and very convincingly! I like to read things that get me thinking and this sure did. I am in the human helping field (teacher and social worker) I agree we should help "our brothers", have more compassion than judgment, and maybe even ask to hear someone's story. I think supporting those who are part of the "at risk" population (if you will) is important, dignified and honestly just the right thing to do. Supporting people at a macro level is where I want to be helping, maybe creating new policies and procedures to help people, and to give everyone a fair chance and equal opportunity who may never get it otherwise.

    I shall continue to read your lovely blog!


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