I am waiting at a Pedestrian Crosswalk for the light to turn green. They are walking across the street towards me from the left, crossing along the avenue. They are four. Two men. Two women. they look like a group of office workers out for lunch. Their voices carry towards me with the ease of a jet plane taking off in the arctic air that has swept down upon our city.
"If I were homeless and it were this cold I'd take as many ambulance rides as I could," says one woman. Her voice sounds harsh and derisive. Or maybe it was just her words sounded harsh and derisive and I applied my judgements of what she said to her voice.
"They already do that," replies the other woman quickly. "Why do you think our health care costs are so out of whack? They're abusing the system constantly."
And they walk on by. Laughter trailing behind them.
The pedestrian light turns green and I cross, and walk away from that moment where our paths intersected. That moment of conversation that lingers in the frigid air as I walk towards my luncheon.
And it lingers on. I think about their words. About the opinions expressed. About the perceptions that are so out of alignment with the truth as I know it, as I perceive it.
And my judgements edge in like a semi-trailer parallel parking on a busy city street. There's nothing comfortable about my judgements. Nothing easy. In a brain filled with gazillions of brain cells, they're trying to maneuver into a tiny space of limited thinking that leaves me spiralling in dismay.
I want to run after that quartet and set them straight. I tell myself, their truth is based on lack of knowledge. On stereotypes they've never tested. On information they've never questioned.
I know this to be true I tell myself and keep walking away. Really folks, can't you see how blind your thinking is? Can't you see it just isn't true?
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon presenting at an elementary school. Four different groups of students, grades k to 6, gathered to learn about homelessness and the shelter where I work.
I use our Stand by Me video when I make these presentations. It's fun and it's a great way to open people up to limiting beliefs. Before the video plays, I ask the students and teachers gathered to watch the musicians, and at the end, tell me which ones are homeless.
No one ever questions the question. They watch and in the end say, Toby. Amy. Jesse. Norm. All of them.
No one ever asks, "Why is that important?" "What difference does it make?"
Until after they've called out their presumptions and I tell them 'the truth'. "Some of the people you saw on stage are homeless. Some aren't." There are sheepish looks. Cries of 'oh no, I got it wrong.'
No one ever 'gets it right'.
And then I ask, Did it matter? Did you enjoy their performance? Did you question their right to be on that stage?"
It is an interesting moment of truth-telling. I do confess to the trick of my question. The video was specifically designed so that there was no 'identifier', no 'label' differentiating housed from homeless.
When we created it, we wanted to strip away the 'difference' between them and focus on the similarities. And, we wanted to encourage people to question their presumptions, their need to know -- who is homeless? who isn't?
Because the people on that stage are all connected through the same condition that connects us all. Regardless of our history, our economic status, our faith, colour, creed, height, weight, disposition. We are all connected through the human condition. We are all human beings.
Just like the four people walking past me casting off their opinions without thinking about the impact of their words upon the very lives of the people they were judging.
We are all connected. And when I cast judgement upon the judgers, when I condemn those whom I perceive to be blind or deaf and dumb to the 'truth', I am the judge. I am the one I am condemning.
I am them. They are me. Like me, they struggle to find themselves on the road of life. Struggle to be more caring. More loving. More considerate of others. They have known pain and sorrow, loss, grief. They feel happiness. Sadness. They have moments of limited thinking. Moments of grandeur.
Like me, they want to be their best -- as moms, dads, employees, citizens, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, neighbours.
They want to be their best and like me, sometimes, can't see their best is open to interpretation, open to debate when it is couched in words that belittle someone else, that tear down the world around me them leaving little room for greatness to grow.
Like me, they don't see how not questioning their beliefs creates friction in their lives.
And like me, they don't see how love is blocked off by judgements.
Four people passed me by on the street. Their conversation lingered and I was awoken to the truth of my humanity. I cannot love unconditionally, without expectation, or quid pro quot negotiation when I judge another to be less than, other than, me. I cannot love freely when I limit my thinking to loving one and not the other.
And... for those who have never seen it, and for those who have and just want a little bit of heart-warming this December morning, here is the DI version of Ben E. King's classic, Stand by Me.