Thursday, June 25, 2009

Give peace a chance

Hate is not overcome by hate; by love alone is hate appeased. This is an eternal law. Buddha
I work in a world where hatred of those who do not conform, who live outside the box of normalcy, who abuse there bodies and minds with drugs and alcohol, runs deep. Intolerance is bred through ignorance, disgust through fear. And yet, I cannot hate those who do not support nor understand why we serve the people we do, why they need our help. To hate them would be to breed more discontent. We've got enough of that to last a lifetime or two.

I had a call from a man who was frustrated because we had made an outcry about a ticket one of our clients received. "He broke the law," the man told me. "Everyone else uses a washroom to urinate. Why should he be so special?"

The man of whom he was speaking is in his sixties. Needs a walker to get around and has diminished mental capacities -- partly due to his lifestyle, partly due to an inherent condition he's carried within him all his life.

He had urinated against a fence that borders the property and the construction zone that is the East Village where the shelter is situated. He had gone for a walk and couldn't get back before the call of nature overcame him. He'd maneuvered his way to a corner of the fence and relieved himself. There is no traffic. No walkers by. No one to witness his act -- except for a by-law officer who was standing by to impose the law upon shelter clients in the area on a day when we had closed so that we could hold an all day workshop for all our staff.

The ticket was worth $360.

I sat in my office listening to the man on the phone and wondered about double standards. Just the day before, I'd driven by the construction site and witnessed a worker relieving himself at the far edge of our property where dirt movers are digging into the earth to lay a new road that will completely block access to our property from the north side. There was no by-law officer to ticket him. No public outcry over lewd and lascivious behaviour. No phone calls complaining about the people we serve.

Just an old man with diminished capacities and no prospects. And a ticket for $360.

Hatred will not change the opinion of the man who called me. His hatred will not abate without an invitation to lean into tolerance and understanding. And that invitation can only reach him if it comes through love.

It is the challenge for every person who carries the label homeless. It is the challenge for all of us who work in the sector. How do we convert hatred to love when intolerance and judgement stand between us on both sides of the fence?

We surrender and fall in love. We surrender our anger, our hatred, our intolerance of intolerance and embrace our detractors with love, peace and understanding.

We may not change their conviction that they are right, but our journey will be less fraught with peril, our minds less consumed with anger and our hearts less unsettled with angst.

Hatred does not overcome hatred. Only love has that power.

The question is: Are you holding onto anger and hatred in the belief you'll come out the other side in love? Let it go. Surrender and fall in love. Can you give peace a chance?

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