The population we work with has a lot to deal with. They frequently have difficult family situations, lack of training in job skills, minimal education on social norms, sometimes they have addiction as a part of their life, abuse and neglect are not uncommon. So many issues, situations, and difficulties to overcome. If I was in a similar situation to most of my friends on the streets, I’m pretty certain I would crumble. Give up. Decide it’s pointless. My friends on the streets are so much stronger than I am, and so frequently their situations have arisen not from their own decisions, but from the decisions of others that have placed them in this situation.
Frequently, those of us who grew up in homes where all of our daily needs were met, homes where opportunities far outnumbered our setbacks, homes where we were encouraged to succeed and supported in the process, it is easy to stand in judgment of the lives lived by my friends out on the streets. Statements such as “just get a job”, “go to rehab”, “stop being lazy” fly with some consistency. We absolutely want some of our friends to “stop being lazy”, and we definitely want some to “go to rehab”, and we obviously want our friends to find their place in the workforce; but seldom, if ever, do these blanket statements actually move our friends to a more positive and healthy place, and they tend to perpetuate a “one-size fits all” approach to partnership and support.
Instead, we need to get close. Get to know the stories. Learn who the individual is, what their needs are. As we get to know their stories and struggles, judgement is replaced by love. Father Gregory Boyle puts it this way: “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”
And so, as we engage with individuals on the edges, with the poor, we realize that we cannot be of any service to them until we cultivate a heart of compassion over judgement and realize the strength that is present among these individuals. Until we recognize that the struggle facing those on the edges of our society is unfair, unjust, and that partnership and compassion are what are needed, the hurts will never be relieved. When we cultivate a heart of compassion and partnership both their struggles and successes become ours and our struggles and successes becomes theirs, and together we can overcome, celebrate and simply be so much more.