It is very easy in life to look at a situation and jump to an early conclusion without knowing all of the facts. You see someone engaged in some form of conduct that seems unbecoming or inappropriate and perhaps without even knowing the person or reason they are acting in a particular manner, you judge them.
We all see homeless people on the street and sometimes wonder what are they doing to improve their own circumstances but don’t always stop and consider how they got there in the first place.
In yesterday’s post, I featured a woman who has been on skid row since she was 17 years old who has constantly had curve balls thrown at her since she was a child. Yet I look at her and am inspired by her attitude towards life.
Skid row is filled with people, many of whom have interesting stories to tell. In the area not too far from the LA Mission, you can often find a man who is well known as the “Barber of Skid Row.” He stands on a street corner and will cut anyone’s hair or give them a shave for whatever they can afford, even if it is nothing. Over the years he has gathered a collection of cutting and shaving pieces to help him with his trade, most of which he carries around in a mobile cart that he can wheel from one street to the next. Perhaps he had been a successful barber at some point and then business fell away leaving him without enough money to continue operating. When you are “sailing close to the wind”, you don’t have to get too far off course and all of a sudden find yourself unable to afford to pay rent, have to move out of your apartment, and all of a sudden have nowhere to go but the street.
If you talk to people who have served time in prison, they will tell you that in most of the Southern California jails, job training is offered to only about 20% of the inmates. What are these people supposed to do when they come out of prison after serving their sentence with no more skills than when the first became incarcerated?
I remember seeing a short film a number of years ago which shows a man and his children riding a New York subway late at night. The man is sitting down with his hands on his head, lost in thought. Another man taps him on the shoulder and points to the first man’s children who are somewhat running around the subway car slightly out of control and says “you need to take care of your children.” The man looks up at the stranger and apologizes for the behavor of his children and says. “I am truly sorry for the disturbance. I have just come from the hospital where I learned from the doctor that my wife and the children’s mother does not have that much more time to live and I don’t know how to explain this to them.”
Upon learning of the man’s plight, you have a little more insight as to why the man was not in control of his children yet the initial reaction was to criticize the man for not managing them. If you take a step back, and take the time to learn or understand why people behave in a particular way, or why their circumstances have placed them in a particular situation, your compassion and understanding may well change.
In today’s pictures we see in the first image, a man standing by a hotel that provides temporary low cost housing. He has decent shoes on his feet and appears reasonably well groomed. He has a sad look on his face but we don’t know why or how long he has been living this way.
The man in the second picture is equally well groomed yet his personal possessions are all lined up on the sidewalk next to him. In speaking to him, I found out that he had held a job for a long period of time and then got laid off and could no longer make his rental payments. He is looking for work but what can he do in the interim?
Look at the muscular figure of the man in the third picture. He is in great physical shape, well groomed and wearing what appears to be a relatively new pair of Nikes and clean socks yet look at where he is living? How many people do you think have passed judgment on this man when they walk past him in this part of the city?
Most of these people who live on the street, including the woman in the last picture, are trying to get off the street but it is not always easy.
When you see a person like the people in these photos, don’t form opinions too quickly about why they are there. These are often not lazy people. Most of them just have failed to get a lucky break. Each of us probably knows at least one person or family who had been living the good life and then had a series of unfortunate events happen to them that were beyond their control. Don’t forget, this can happen to any of us.
“Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.”
(Photos taken in downtown Los Angeles – December 2010 and 2011)