The Human Condition

Ok, first some facts to know before I get into the meat of this subject. I work for a security agency, was just hired recently in fact. I'm stationed at a home improvement store, my job is simple: keep panhandlers and beggars out of the parking lot. Simple, right?

If only.

My job is usually dull, however there are a few recurring "characters", if you will, that make this job interesting. One is Crackhead (he's named by the lot associates, i.e. the guys who get the fun job of running around in the sun, collecting carts, and helping customers load their heavy merchandise). He has a distinct red and white cap that marks his approach and, if that does not make him stand out, he always uses the same approach: "Do you know where a guy can get something to eat?" If he sees me (or one of the more verbose lot associates) approaching, he'll leave without a word.

Next there is Junkie (again, the lot associates show their creative streak). Defined by his rocking gait, peaceful one moment and foul-mouthed the next, this man is a mess. As his name implies, it is thought that he may be on drugs. I can't confirm or deny this; however multiple sources indicate that he is. Unlike Crackhead, he is not easily deterred. He'll either try to talk one down or he'll fly into a rage of obscenities and threats (he called me a motherfr so many times that I'm starting to think that he's accusing me of incest).

Finally, there is Mister Polite (I named him). At first I didn't even know that he was homeless. He makes nice conversation, talks about the weather, and is…well, polite. He occasionally uses my cell phone and I bought him lunch once.

Of the three, Junkie is the one I have the most salient experience with. Even so, it was all three men that inspired me to write this. When I first got the job of lot security guard, I asked myself "What is homeless"? Let's take a laymen's approach to the etymology of the word:

Home – less

A home is a place where people live for a number of reasons, namely survival, protection from the elements/potential threats, and family. Home is also the place where we keep all of our possessions.

Less is to subtract or to be without. To be homeless in an academic sense is to be without a home and, by association, without the things that a home can and more often than not does offer.

This led me to another question: are there degrees of homelessness? The obvious answer is no: either you have a home or you do not. But I've come to realize that maybe there

are, and have come up with three terms that implies the differences that I see. Pretense Homeless, Legitimate Homeless, and Illegitimate Homless. They are what they sound like: the pretense homeless are those who pretend to be homeless, but they really are not; legitimate homeless are those who, by unfortunate circumstances are now homeless, and the illegitimate are those made homeless directly by choices that they themselves have made.

How nice.

How neat.

How arrogant.

Honestly, what gale a person, me, must have to say that a person is legitimately homeless, where I am in the lap of luxury (not really; in truth I'm barely lower-middle class, but compared to one who is homeless, I might as well be rich), but at the same time I can't help but wonder if there is a difference between a person whose home was foreclosed versus a person who, in their addiction to drugs, ended up homeless?

Is this my place to decide?

In the end, the world will continue to spin, people will continue being born, and people will continuing dying; one person's opinion very rarely changes the course of things. But I felt that this was a legitimate concern. Personally, I'd always felt that the homeless was a part of society that should not be, at least in America, land of the free, home of the brave. I do not say those words mockingly, but in respect and as a way of reminding myself (and others) what exactly America stands for.

America stands for choice and opportunity. It stands for hard work, but also for rewarding said hard work. It stands for freedom; what is homelessness but a form of bondage? In that case, what is debt but a form of bondage? But I digress; America ought to be designed in a way that a person can truly shape and form their destiny. This is true for some, but not all.

Does that suggest that homelessness is an inevitable result? For some, maybe. Sometimes events happen that the people who are affected most by it cannot, ironically, affect said situation which affected them, if that makes sense.

But then there is another aspect of America, the aspect of choice. People make choices in their lives that may end up with them being homeless, through choice or ignorance, it is the same. In short, there are many of reasons why a person becomes homeless, some reasons aren't by choice, but some are.

So, there is the what, the why. But still, something is missing.

Am I responsible?

Before I had this job, I had no trouble with giving a dollar to a person, for many reasons. I like being helpful. I like believing in the best of people. I'd also like to think that, if the situation was reversed, I would be endlessly gracious to a person who showed grudgeless generosity towards me.

But, since it is literally my job not to allow this, my perspective has changed. I suppose I have become a little more cynical, unfortunately. My attitude towards giving money in general remains the same; when asked if I can lend money, I tend to give it as if I will not see that money again, i.e., without expecting a return. I'm this way to friends, family, and some strangers. But on the same token, well, should a person feel obligated to give?

Recently, as I was talking to Junkie and explaining to him (again) to the umpteenth time why he is not allowed on the lot, the person who he was going to ask for money from came to Junkie's defense. He said to forget my job for a moment and look at the human aspect. I must admit, I found it difficult to do. Not because I couldn't look at the human aspect, but because I was considering the human aspect while explaining to Junkie why he could not be on the lot.

I was thinking to myself (and later explaining): Why should I give up my job, which I have to ensure that I don't end up homeless, for someone who is already homeless? While one person wouldn't necessarily get me fired, I am a person who likes equality; if I let Junkie ask for money on the lot, then by rule I should let anyone else do the same. It would be as if I weren't even hired for the job in the first place, making my employment moot. In the attempt to 'save' one, two drown.

But at the same time, what kind of person lets another person drown? Who am I, or anyone, to decide the worth of a person? The answer is, only a person can define her worth. The old adage "You must respect yourself before others can respect you" is so true; if a person finds worth in themselves, then so will others. Maybe not everyone, but others will. Junkie didn't earn his nickname for fun; if his namesake is true, then he made choices that landed him in his current position. Should I feel bad for someone who messed up their own life?

Who is to say that I, or that you, aren't two steps away from being in a similar position?

Of course at this point I wanted to point out organizations that are set up as a safety net of sorts. What about Welfare? Isn't that designed to help people out? But of course it seems to be used for all the wrong reasons…

This chapter must be cut short, because my rambling would continue, but in the end I calmly escorted Junkie off of the lot. He walked away, secure in that he felt that he had a right to do what he had to do to "survive" (if you wish to call that survival), and I watched him walked away with a troubled heart and a troubled mind.

As I watched, I could only wonder about the condition of humanity. Was humanity responsible for humanity? If yes, was it too a certain extent or wholeheartedly, no matter what? If no...well, if not then who was responsible for humanity?