The greatest thing about man is his ability to transcend himself, his ancestry and his environment and to become what he dreams of being. Tully C. KnolesIn the world of homelessness, personal greatness is often forgotten beneath the burden of living life on the fringes, trapped on the darkside of our being.
Yesterday, I had a television crew in to do a story about our winter emergency plan. It was quiet when we first stepped onto the second floor, our day area where clients can sit and read, play cards, sometimes watch TV, put their head down on a table top and rest, have a meal...
We always announce when there's a crew on the floor to ensure individuals who do not want to appear on TV have a chance to turn their back, leave the floor or put their head down.
Bringing a crew onto the floor is a catch-22. On one hand, the shelter is a place of sanctuary, home for as long as we're needed. On the other, we need the support of the media to ensure our story gets out to the public, to keep them informed and involved in our work of serving those who have lost their way into homelessness.
Our clients don't often see the latter component of why the TV crews are there. Mostly they look at it as an infringement of their privacy. Thus, I try to explain whenever I can the reason for the crew's presence, and what we're trying to accomplish.
Doesn't matter how much explanation or time I spend explaining what's going on, something always goes on that is unexpected!
Like the couple yesterday who got into a domestic dispute. She ran into the washroom. He tried to run after her. He sat by the washroom door, ignoring staff's entreaties to 'leave it alone'. She came out of the washroom surrounded by a posse of five to six women intent on keeping him away from her. Her intent was to get to him. She broke through the posse. He started shouting obscenities. She started shouting back. They chased each other around the floor while staff tried to contain each of them.
It was, as the expression goes, a gong show.
Finally, two staff got the woman through the elevator door, down to the first floor. The man required more forceful intervention. They took him down to the ground, right in front of where I was standing with the camera crew. I moved the crew back, out of the line of scrimmage. They were respectful. Considerate and understanding. For the five minutes staff held the man pinned to the floor, calmly talking him down as he cried obscenities into their faces, we watched from behind a wall of bodies who had pressed forward to take in the action. There was no where for us to go without causing a further ruckus.
And that's the part of this process that inspires me every morning. As I wrote that last paragraph my mind jumped to conversations with staff about the treatment our clients sometimes receive from the police. Accounts of beatings, being roughed up, being accosted by the boys in blue (and girls) are daily.
Yesterday, as I listened to the conversations around us, as I fielded client's insistent calls that the camera crew 'film this' so that people could see what really goes on at the DI, how staff continually mistreat clients, beat them up, etc., it struck me that the story that would be told about this incident would not be very different than the stories told about the police. "They threw me to the ground. I wasn't doing anything. I just wanted to talk to my woman. And then they beat me. See this bruise. This cut. They did that." And so it would be told, and expanded, and embellished.
The world of homelessness is filled with drama. And that drama is fuelled by the abject poverty, the situational depression that encompasses the lives of those who are homeless.
The need for drama is a constant fix. A continuous hunger for meaning, for relevance, for greatness.
When life doesn't appear to be treating you that great, you go looking for something to fix the scarcity in your life.
Drama is an easy way to get it. Telling your victim story is the way to getting attention, to feeling 'great' for a moment, or a lifetime.
When I tell my victim story, I make myself the innocent bystander to whom these things just happen. In my victimhood, I let go of my power, my ability to create change in my life, my greatness.
We all have a victim story. Growth comes when we turn ourselves from being the victim into the victor of changes that empower me to live up to my greatness, to live the life of my dreams.
For someone experiencing homelessness, being the victim helps you make sense of what has happened and is happening to your life. Telling stories on others, telling stories about how you were treated bad, treated wrong, treated with disrespect puts you into a victim's place and serves to keep you from having to face the truth of your circumstances: Where ever I'm at in my life today, it was my actions (or lack of action) that got me there.
To transcend ourselves, our ancestry, our environment requires actively doing the things that move us away from our victim's place into our victor's role. To claim our greatness so that we can live our dreams, we must let go of the tales of how badly we were treated and start writing stories about being the man or woman of our dreams. True stories. Real stories. Stories that don't need embellishment because they are the stories of our lives of greatness.
The question is: What kind of story will you tell about your life today? Will you embellish the scarcity of your existence, or will you take the hero's road and become the man or woman you've dreamt of being?