Homelessness: The Vicious Cycle (A View from Someone Facing Your Worst Nightmare and Other’s Cruel Reality)

Photo by Mark O'Rourke via Flickr  (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Photo by Mark O’Rourke via Flickr
(CC BY-ND 2.0)

There is good in humanity. Some strive for equality. Some fight for the rights of others. Some cannot help but be empathetic to those around them. The flip side to that coin is that all too often, as a whole, humanity is greedy, narcissistic, and judgmental. One may not see it on a person to person basis, but one cannot deny the prevalence of self-indulgent tendencies executed by individuals that seem to never be able to put themselves into any other person’s shoes. As a species, we take so much for granted. We have the power to do great things, and we squander it, while at the same time criticizing others that have never had the chance to do what we are blessed to just to make ourselves feel better. We act as if our actions should have no consequence, while assuming that the consequences of others are well-deserved. We lack the ability to listen, not just hear. We have a long way to go.

There are many instances in which this is applicable, however, this morning I wish to focus your attention to the circumstance that recently lit a fire inside me. Life in and of itself is hard enough as it is when everything goes according to plan. There are bills to pay, mouths to feed, and for many, just surviving isn’t enough, as many want a chance to enjoy life. Now what if you add a bit of abnormality to this mix? Say one’s family wasn’t exactly supportive, or perhaps someone was born in an area where the job market was slim to none? Maybe an unexpected medical emergency emerges. Even still, someone could have a plan to better his/herself through college, only to have trouble getting there. No matter how much drive one has, there are some things out of one’s control. What happens when bad luck turns to worse luck, and for some small reason, a person loses everything just like that? Don’t kid yourself, it doesn’t always happen slowly over the course of years of bad decisions. It can happen in an instant, and it can happen to anyone if chaos decides it is your turn. What happens? That person very well, without the support of those around him/her, may become homeless.

Many of us could not fathom coping with such a circumstance, yet thousands upon thousands face this as their real life. Let me reiterate this since many people tend to dehumanize the homeless or use them as a heart string-pulling tabloid article to exploit them for personal gain: These people aren’t just characters in a story or a movie, this is real life, and all too often there are no happy endings, just forgotten faces turned into statistics. Being homeless in and of itself is tragic and frightening. One would not have a safe place to sleep, nothing to eat, no bathroom or shower, and little to no clothing. This is already a horrible situation, but it is a snare that few people can escape no matter how much they want the chance to better themselves. Too often I hear people say “Oh, well they should get a job or go to school, then they won’t be homeless.” I would like to point out the absolute ignorance of such an ill-thought out statement, since those people don’t look far enough into a situation that they have the luxury of not experiencing. Yes, getting a job pays the bills if one is lucky, and going to college enriches one’s education so that one can have more opportunities… However, stop and consider that to get a job in the first place or go to school, one requires personal grooming, clean clothes (many times specific clothes that must be purchased), and rest, all which are part of having a place to stay, which is hard to come by without a job from the start unless one has particularly charitable friends or family. Not to mention it can take time to get a job in the first place, much less to save up for a place to stay. Do you see the flaw in that logic? It is easy to tell people what they should do when you yourself have the means to do so.

I also see the influx of people that look down on the homeless, as if they are second rate citizens. They act as if these people have no merit whatsoever, as if they don’t have talent, intelligence, and dreams. They act as if the homeless can’t see the disdain in their eyes, and as if it doesn’t hurt them even more. As a human, it sickens me that my species does this on a large scale, and it sickens me even more that in today’s world so many people are allowed to get to that point in the first place. Let me be clear on something, for the people that are so offended by the unfortunate just for existing, I ASSURE you that the fact they have to beg and plead like a dog while people just walk on by offends their pride MUCH more. I know, I know, some people don’t like to see that life is not all roses and champagne, as it makes their First World problems seem as insignificant as they really are, but we need to stop dehumanizing the people suffering, lest we lose one of the very things that makes us human: compassion. Trust me, the people actually suffering hate it much more than you do to just see it for a few seconds before you avert your eyes.

The cynicism and self-centered nature that has become the new human condition is taken to a new level when one takes into consideration how many people on a daily basis do nothing but waste the opportunities that are proverbially handed to them on a silver platter in comparison. All the while they whine and complain about how they can’t afford frivolous, superficial possessions even after wasting the money they had on other frivolous, superficial possessions. People tend to take what they have for granted, forgetting that too many have much, much less with no chance to do better. They depend solely on human kindness, and in this world where people rarely take care of the people they know and care about that is a horrible thing to have to depend on. Some people may offer a few dollars to charity or to the people they see, but too often it is done out of a sense of easing just enough guilt and patting themselves on the back after choking down their third $10 coffee for the day while venting on social media how horrible their life is because the barista looked at them funny. While a few dollars can help someone eat for a day, that person still has no peace of mind nor stability. The only stability he/she knows is the routine of uncertainty. This is not to say that people should just give away their whole paycheck to others, but it is to bring everything into perspective so that people understand the severity of this scenario and see things from the side they don’t want to face. Keep in mind most of these people are not looking for a handout or your pity, they want the means to provide for themselves. They want to regain the dignity and pride they once had.

In closing, I want to say this: If you find yourself judging someone less fortunate than you, stop and remind yourself that everyone does not have the same story. Sometimes we don’t even get to write parts of our own story, but are left to try to turn a plot twist into a good ending. If you find yourself complaining about what you don’t have, then aspire for more, but appreciate what you have nonetheless. Don’t insult the struggle of those less fortunate by never being satisfied. If you can, take the time to learn someone’s story. Show true compassion. And remember to be thankful for that frustrating job, the nerve wracking exams, and the cluttered house. You don’t know what you have until it is gone, and if you lose it, you’ll be at the mercy of people that may be just like you. God help you if that is a bad thing.

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The Illusion of Perfection

Summer is around the corner, and women (and men) are gearing up for the dreaded swim suit season. Every form of media bombards us with advertisements, tips, and tricks to help us get the “bikini season body” we’re pressured to dream of. While there is no problem with a person wanting to get healthier and eat better, even for the sake of wanting to improve his/her appearance, my problem lies in the importance we place on our looks based on OTHER PEOPLE’S ideals and the illusion of perfection. That’s right, the illusion of perfection.

What does the word perfect mean? By definition, it is something that is without fault or defect. However, when judging strictly on someone’s appearance, perfection is entirely up to perception. What one person finds perfect, another may disagree with. Ergo, the premise that one can have a truly perfect appearance is simply a fantasy. There are billions of people on this earth, there is no way one person can please every single one of them. So why not focus on what YOU find attractive. You can appreciate someone’s appearance, but that does not mean you should try to conform to that ideal if it is not something you want for yourself. It certainly does not mean that you should try to change yourself based on what other people find attractive. I can hear the internal argument now, “But what if the majority of people says certain qualities are more attractive?” I would like to offer the rebuttal of, “Who cares?” Yes, everyone is entitled to his/ her own opinion, but does that mean you want to change yourself based on the opinions of someone else? Do you base your self-worth on other people’s opinions? Or do you want to decide for yourself what you find attractive? You wouldn’t let some random person pick your clothes for you in the morning, so why let random people decide what is attractive for your body? If you are constantly changing yourself or wishing you could change based on the ever varying opinions of other people, you will never be satisfied, for as I said, you can’t please everyone.

This is an issue we as a society have to fix. While the media does throw out these ideals for the most part, we feed into it, we perpetuate it. We tear each other down based on appearance when we have a difference of opinion. We beat ourselves up over having “flaws”. We compare ourselves to people that don’t really look as perfect as magazines show them to be. We have a society that says, “You can get plastic surgery,” which implies that our uniqueness is something to be fixed by paying thousands of dollars to someone that  is essentially preying on insecurities for profit. (Reconstructive surgery is a different subject.) We have fashion magazines that have an obligatory article telling us we should love our bodies the way they are on one page while pandering the newest fad diet, exercise routine, and clothing to make one look 10 pounds lighter on the next 10 pages, with all models looking practically identical. Not that there is anything wrong with being healthy or skinny, but the way it is set up sends the wrong message when that is all you see. Fashion magazines are supposed to be about style, not weight. We suffer unnecessarily in many areas of our lives based on how the world sees us. Is it nice to feel attractive in other people’s eyes? Yes. But it is more important that one feels attractive no matter what other people think, otherwise one person could ruin someone’s day. Other people have a right to their opinion, but each person has a right to his/her opinions of him/her self as well. It is also important that someone’s worth isn’t based on appearance, because it is true, looks are only skin deep.

So this year when it is time to hit the beach, don’t let the opinions of others deter you from throwing on your bikini (or swim trunks, guys). Don’t feel like you have to diet, cover up, tone up, or gain muscle or curves just for the “sake of the eyes of others.” Even if you are working to reach the body that you want, don’t let that deter you in the meantime. Stop stressing. Love yourself. There’s only one you. At the end of the day, the only person’s opinion that matters about your body is yours.

Seeing Through The Eyes of the Blind

A study by the World Health Organization suggests that worldwide an estimated 39 million people are blind. Those of us that, too often, take our sight for granted would certainly be horrified if we suddenly lost it. Everyday things that are effortless to people accustomed to visually seeing the world would become a chore, and we would have to learn different ways of performing simple tasks. We would have to learn how to read by touch; in fact the sense of touch (and sound) would become our primary means of perceiving the outside world. We could no longer see the faces of our loved ones, a beautiful sunset, our old memories that are captured in photographs. The tragic sense of loss and change would likely be overwhelming for many of us, yet you see those that have lost their sight or were born without it prevail and even thrive in life. They do not let their lack of sight impede their lives, and they use innovative means to triumph over what we see as a disadvantage.

However, as frightening and heartbreaking as it would for us to suddenly lose our sight, and with all of the hardships we would endure, all of the beautiful things we would no longer be able to see, I am forced to ask what life would be like if we saw each other through the eyes of the blind. You see, while the blind do not see the beauty in our world, they also do not judge based on how a person looks. We would not be distracted by what society’s ideas of beauty are, and thus not label those around us based on a physical perception. We would be able to put racism behind us if we saw the world not in color but as a unified race of humanity and spoke to people without instilled misconceptions. We would not dismiss a person’s worth based on what he or she appears to be, but instead would allow ourselves to get to know that person’s intelligence, sense of humor, ethic, and dreams, the things that really make a person. We would have less self-doubt and self-loathing, as we would not have society’s idea of perfection projected upon us. We could focus, all of us, on what matters. Those of us that have been given the gift of sight can see beauty, but too often it is turned into something perverse and taken for granted. In a way, the blind see more than we ever could, as they know a person not by face, but by his or her soul.

Discrimination of Self Expression: Tattoos, Piercings, and Hair Styles in the Workplace

My generation heard it countless times from church officials, teachers, parents, and other supposed figures of authority: “You shouldn’t get tattoo or piercings, and you shouldn’t dye or cut your hair in an odd fashion because you won’t be taken seriously and you’ll never get a good job. You should never be anything but professional in your appearance.” Which equates to “We don’t understand young people’s style, we don’t want to understand it, we just don’t like it because it is different, be a ‘model citizen’, repent and conform.” While this attitude towards what is, at it’s most basic, self-expression through art was more prevalent decades ago, it continues to be a thorn in the side of many people trying to make an honest living to this day. The excuses you hear will be numerous, but the most popular ones are that these harmless forms of self-expression are seen as “trashy”, “rebellious”, “aggressive”, “weird”, or “unprofessional”. While tattoos were the mark of the lovable rebel back in the day, we are in the year 2015, where in most of the modern world self-expression is encouraged and admired. Some people just do it differently. Consider this one woman’s call to eradicate the stigma still placed on these people in the workplace. It is time to stop sugar coating it and see it for what it is: an attempt to force people to conform and be someone else, “punishment” if they step “out of line”, and blatant discrimination against self-expression.

First I offer a bit of history for your reading pleasure regarding the most prevalent object of judgment, tattoos. According to Wikipedia, Martin Hildebrandt, a German immigrant, was the first recorded professional tattoo artist in the United States. In 1846 he opened a shop in New York City, and he became very popular during the American Civil War with soldiers and sailors on both sides of the conflict. He traveled from camp to camp to perform his services, which began the tradition of American military members receiving tattoos. Tattoos were popular and considered chic with upper-class young adults until the beginning of World War I. The electric tattoo gun was invented in 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly. Tattoos became less expensive and more efficient, ergo the tattoo was no longer the mark of only the wealthy. This ushered in the shift of symbolism to the stigma we see remnants of today.

Now that we know part of how we arrived at this level of prejudice, I want to focus on why I feel that myself and others like me are being unfairly discriminated against, and why it has to stop. There are many forms of prejudice in the world, racism, sexism, religious prejudice, the list goes on. However, in these cases, United States federal law protects individuals from unfair discrimination in the workforce via laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. You may recognize this name from any time you have applied for a job, where at the end of the application businesses state that they comply with EEOC regulations and “do not discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” These laws are extremely important to ensure that unfair discrimination is not faced, yet if you read the list of laws, you do not find anything protecting a person’s right to self expression through body modification. In a society where so many people have fought for the basic right to work and receive equal pay, why is this form of prejudice still allowed? The argument has been made that those of us that get tattoos and piercings and prefer our hair a less natural shade choose to do these things, we are not born this way. This is true, but our attraction to our own style, how we choose to present ourselves, that is something that is ingrained into us. Sure, we could try to fit in with everyone else, but we would not be true to ourselves and would be unhappy because of it. When I hear the aforementioned argument, all I hear is someone stuck in their ways defending their judgmental actions. To this argument, I propose a counterpoint: Sometimes men and women do not identify with the sex they are born to, so they express themselves as the sex they do identify as. Discrimination against these people is illegal. I rest my case.

Today’s job market is shaky enough as it is. Some businesses don’t have enough experienced and efficient employees, and too many people are having trouble finding a fulfilling job that pays the bills. Why add on to that with outdated and unfair workplace discrimination that benefits no one? Employers need to look at the qualifications of the person, not their self-expression, not what is on their skin or in their hair. Would they appreciate someone telling them that they can’t dress in a fashion that suits them if they want to be successful? Ponder this as well: How many of these people that condescend anyone unique also idolize singers, bands, actresses, and actors that have tattoos or unique hairstyles? They are no different from the rest of us, save for the fact their self-expression is not a job deterrent.

Of course there are certain places and professions where individualism is not a problem. Larger cities are usually more open minded to the change. However, the fact that there is even a shred of this prejudice left and that it is at the employer’s discretion is inexcusable. You don’t see racism, sexism, or ageism in the workplace allowed at the employer’s discretion or allowed in certain cities. It’s time that someone stands up for the “unique’s” right to work, not just in certain places, but wherever they choose and are qualified. Until then, we cannot in good faith tout that we are a nation of freedom and equality.

The Anti-Social Media?

Picture by Adam Fagen via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/8637598334 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Picture by Adam Fagen via Flickr
(CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s 2015, and we are living in the Digital Age. Technology abounds and is used in the vast majority of the population’s lives. Almost everything in life is easier, more efficient, and faster than ever before. With over 3 billion internet users across the world, information and communication are right at your fingertips. Television guarantees that entertainment is just a click away. Video games provide an escape to another world for a few hours, where you can be anything you want to be. We have smart cars, smart TVs, and smart phones. However, too much of a good thing can be, well, a bad thing. I do not set out to shun these technologies, as I, too, enjoy the products of the Digital Age. I simply want to offer my personal opinion insight and pose a few questions to ponder regarding what I feel is increasingly excessive use.

The Internet brings knowledge to those who seek it and brought the world closer together.
Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media ensure a simple and quick way to communicate with those you care about. It is also a soapbox to share opinions, ideas, and those adorable cat memes we all know and love. YouTube lets you find videos both entertaining and informative. Amazon meets all of your shopping needs. It lets people like me reach out to readers like you. The upside is tremendous. The downside lies in the time many people spend online and the impact it can have on their real life. According to a statistical analysis by WeAreSocial.net conducted in January 2015, worldwide, the average user spends about 4 hours and 25 minutes per day online. Per year, that is about 1,612 hours, or roughly 67 days. Of that average, around 2 hours and 25 minutes are spent on social sites, or around 882 hours (roughly 37 days). All this time… sitting in front of a screen or looking at a phone. While I do concede that of course some of this time is used for learning or for important purposes, and that communication and entertainment are important, I can’t help but feel as if that number is a bit high for a day to day basis for the average user. Some say it is not a problem, but how many times have you seen friends, families, and even couples out supposedly socializing with each other, only to see each person checking his/her phone every five minutes? Being able to multitask is all fine and well, but what happened to talking to someone face to face, not face to phone? It is hard for a relationship to grow stronger when everyone is talking but no one is listening, but what happens to the relationship when no one is talking or is talking very sparsely? The Internet that brought the world together seems to separate people on a real life level.

Television has long been one of the population’s favorite pastimes. Educational and entertaining programs can be found, and there is a genre for everyone. Widening ones knowledge and keeping up to date on certain current events is important, and a momentary reprieve from day to day life may be needed on occasion. However, some people forget the policy of everything in moderation and find themselves sitting in front of the television for hours at a time staring blankly at it no matter what is on. It turns into a distraction, not a “luxury”. A study by eMarketer.com in April 2015 found that the average American watches about 4 hours and 15 minutes of television a day. That’s over 1,551 hours a year, or 64 days. Television is not even an interactive media, yet people funnel so much of their time into it that they complain if “nothing is ever on television.” I would think that is a good chance to spend one’s time more wisely, instead of continuing to flip through the channels one just went through 5 minutes ago. Families and friends can rarely even sit down and have dinner together unless their eyes are glued to the television (or the aforementioned Internet). Is there any wonder that so many of our children spend so much time watching television instead of devoting that time to studies and being a kid?

When it comes to interactive media, most people immediately think of video games. No matter which platform, game play, or genre you prefer, there is something to suit your fancy. From arcadepastime to art form, the industry has made great strides. While I love scoring headshots on little angry aliens and using the mighty “Fus Ro Dah” to send bandits flying as much as the next person, I do see many people getting lost during their voyage to new and exciting worlds. Gamers are usually classed as casual (players that are more infrequent in gaming or play casual games) or core (players that may play different and typically more difficult genres of games and usually spend more time doing so). TheESA.com shows 2015’s figures stating that the average American spends more than 6 hours a week playing video games online. That’s more than 312 hours a year, or 13 days. However when you look at the 34 million core gamers, as a study by the NPD Group did in 2014, they average 22 hours a week (1,144 hours a year, or about 48 days). While social, multiplayer and co-operative games do offer a form of interaction, and even can forge new friendships across the globe, it still is not a substitute for social interaction outside the virtual world or exploring the beauty this world has to offer.

While looking at these figures, I can’t help but notice the quality of relationships I see day today: familial, romantic, and friendly. I see a plethora of divorces, breakups, unhappy marriages/relationships, broken families, cast out family members, and fair weather friendships. While I am neither naive nor stupid enough to believe that all of society’s problems lie in the technology we enjoy (some people are just cruel and selfish), I do have to pose this question to my readers: What would our society be like if we spent as much time, energy, and passion (or preferably more) on our relationships and the world around us as we do our technological distractions? If we cut down just a little on our media consumption, and poured ourselves into what matters, what would the world look like? Would there be more successful and blissfully happy romantic relationships if couples talked to each other and knew each other as well as they do what is going on online and on TV? Would more families get along if they knew what was going on in each other’s minds, especially their children? Would less people feel as if they were stabbed in the back by their friends if they all listened as well as they post meaningless statuses to Facebook? You cannot change some people of course, as I said some people are just cruel. But what of the incidences that rise from lack of meaningful conversation and time spent together?

This is not a call to arms against technology. Everyone enjoys it to a degree and it is important to have hobbies and interests. It is important to expand one’s knowledge. It is just as important to not let everything consume you. Enjoy the things technology has to offer, by all means. But don’t forget there is a living, breathing world around you. Take a walk, have a face-to-face conversation with the people you care about without looking at your phone, take your significant other out for the night, go dancing, have a family board game night, go shopping at a real store, live. People depend upon screens as if they are afraid they will miss something, while they miss what goes on right in front of them. Time is finite, and the one thing everyone on his/her death bed wish they had more of. It would be a pity for so many people to waste so much of it behind a screen, only to have to look at a monitor as they watch their vitals fall in the end as they wish they had done things differently. Wishing does not make it so.