Now that I have your attention, I will confess that this article is not about me. Though I have been called ugly and stupid, I have never taken such characterizations too seriously. Though not without my fair share of insecurities, I have never felt myself to be ugly, and while at times I may be ignorant or stubborn, or thick, I certainly feel confident that I am not stupid.
It would be fairly accurate to say that I have been going through a period of change over the past few months. The scope of those changes are for the moment private, though I suppose anyone with the will to do so could connect the dots and at least form a rough idea for themselves.
But allow me to fast forward to now, where I find myself living in downtown Vancouver, quite a change from the little town of Nelson to be sure. Few things in life our free, and there have certainly been trade-offs, some minor, some more significant, but for whatever reason my move into the city has set in motion many great things for me. Perhaps one of the simplest is that I now get to walk to work every day, which makes me feel healthy and alive.
Of course it also means that on a daily basis I encounter some interesting characters on my way to work. Some of them try to sell me drugs or stuff they have stolen, such as cameras (hey dude, you want this camera for only five bucks!), and I can now safely say that I have met at least one person claiming to be the anti-christ, and another claiming to be the messiah. Of course more often than not it is just boring ol’ panhandlers begging for change, some polite, some not so much. Some just sit quietly holding out their cup, while others are pushy, make up elaborate lies, and yell when you don’t give them what they want. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and I can safely say that is true. While it has always been my habit to give my spare change away, I have actually found myself doing it less and less now that I have more opportunities to do so.
I guess my sympathy has been eroded away somewhat. After all, when it gets down to it, these people did at some point choose their own destiny, didn’t they? Ah, and doesn’t that just give me the perfect excuse to harden my heart and pass them on by.
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But then just the other day I passed a man on Granville Street. He had a cardboard sign laid out in front of him stating that he was “ugly, dumb and broke”. Well he was certainly ugly and broke, but for some reason I just didn’t want to accept that he was dumb. After all, would a truly dumb person have had the wit to make up the sign that he did?
It triggered a new question in my mind. Why. I still had no doubt that this person had chosen his own fate, but I realized that the more important question was “why?”. What events in this man’s life lead him to decide that he was dumb? What events lead to him choosing to use drugs and alcohol to the point where he had indeed become very ugly? How is it that his self-esteem had been eroded to such a disastrous level?
I don’t actually have the answers to those questions, because I cannot begin to imagine them. My childhood was not perfect, my young adulthood wasn’t either. But whether he simply had greater pain, or less tolerance for it, I can never be qualified to judge what I have not experienced for myself. I cannot rescue him, fix him, or really do much to help him, but what I can do is refrain from judging him. And on the days I can afford to, I can toss him a few coins.
What he does with them is not up to me to judge.