What is the first thought that crosses your mind when seeing this photo?
(Before continuing to read, please do take a moment and note that first serious thought)
Here’s mine (being totally honest…):
Is he dangerous? i.e. will he attack me? does he carry some fatal disease I can catch just by being in close proximity to him, let alone if he claws me?
Okay – it seems like more than just one thought, but these cognition fragments are all along the same line.
I would have loved to say that upon seeing this homeless man, I immediately felt compassion; that I wondered if he was a war vet, or maybe just a displaced soul that due to some incredible hardship, had lost everything, including his mind. I really would have liked to think that. But I guess that my fight or flight instinct, combined with my social upbringing, still gets the best of me, and my first reaction is of self-preservation.
That being said, I also recognize that while I cannot control my initial thoughts, the next best thing I can do is simply to avoid denial of that which passes through my mind. Such denial is a form of social blindness, which, in turn, brings uptight righteousness.
Contrary to the comfort of denial, acknowledging my initial reaction to the sight, allows me to recognize that while this person may be hazardous to my health, he may also deserve my compassion. Does that mean that I will run to him, offer a bear hug, and open my heart and wallet? Not necessarily, but accepting the above enables me to take a small step towards kindness, kindness in a world that I myself often blame for lacking basic decency and humanity. Thus, on another level, this person is a quiet reminder to myself that I should also practice more humbleness when rushing to judge others.
Some leaps are made all at once; others are a culmination of many small steps.
Learned from: watching a homeless person wondering about a parking lot in Washington DC