For many years when I’ve passed homeless people and beggars I’ve often smiled, made eye contact and said “hello”. Sometimes I give money, but more often than not my contribution has been eye contact and sharing one simple word. The human experience at its base root is being recognized, feeling connected and part of society. Losing this basic relationship with those in your community is surely one of the scariest, most damaging and life altering occurrences one can have. Imagine not being part of life and society around you.
There’s the insane man wandering Patan’s Durbar Square in Nepal, the drug addict on Vancouver’s Robson Street begging for change and a woman cradling a small baby on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, hoping someone will give money. All of these individuals seemed surprised when I slowed down, smiled, made eye contact and said “hello”. It took a couple seconds to seemingly register, but then a momentary connection was made. Human contact is our most basic and essential form of community experience and it’s free. We should all do it more often.
Society will always have its ills, those living on the fringes of society and undesirable elements. But how we chose to deal with and adapt to them will shape the world we live in. Prostitution, drugs, mental illness and homelessness will never be entirely wiped out, but taking small conscious steps, drawing upon the most basic tools in our arsenal, can have a dramatic impact. Rather than ignoring those on the fringe, we should work towards ways of making their situations as decent as possible for the greater good of our communities. Saying “hello” is something everyone can do, every day, with no financial cost.
100,000 Homes, a US-based charity, released a compelling video showing the change they’re making in people’s lives by getting them off the street and in to a home. The pictorial changes are dramatic. After getting off the street, and no doubt connected again with society, there’s a light in their eyes that beams. The human connection has been restored.
Rather than arming our communities with more police, perhaps our goal should be having individuals who stroll their streets, listen to neighbors’ concerns, say “hello” to everyone and reach out to those living on the fringe. Over time they’ll build connections and relationships, slowly opening doors and drawing people in. Being an outcast is a quick and slippery slope, each day it becomes harder, if not virtually impossible to make the jump back in to society, which further feeds their problems and causes such individuals to become more unstable and further exiled.
I suspect living on the street, being homeless, in a bad way, and on the fringe, quickly renders one feeling as though they’re wearing a cloak of invisibility. People seemingly no longer notice them, there’s no interaction and any sense of self worth rapidly disappears. Start smiling and saying “hello” to more people, and most importantly to those who appear to be in a bad place and down on their luck. This small act will let them know they’re seen and still part of the human experience. Perhaps this point of contact will help them hold their chin a little higher, reach out a bit more and take the difficult first step back in to society.