I was walking in Downtown Toronto a few months ago with a friend of mine when this 'homeless' guy howled, "God Bless You!" to us. I went, "thanks man, you too!" When I looked over, I noticed she (my friend) had zoned out, avoiding the entire interaction. Then we passed another "homeless" person and then a third, and each time she either looked away or turned to her phone.
So I finally stopped and confronted her about her awkwardness and she said, "the thing is, I don't know why, but I feel so guilty for everything I have when I see a 'homeless' person". Now, to say I had a lot to say about her remark would be a complete understatement, but I definitely wasn't trying to ruin my chances at a second date. So, like any other smart guy, I obviously dropped the subject and we enjoyed the rest of our evening.
Long after the date, another homeless man stopped me and asked if I could spare a few dollars. I took him to Tim's instead and got him a medium triple triple and a Boston cream doughnut, his favourite, and he asked me how my week went. So I asked him about his and we took a picture together, which I posted on my facebook page, and we went on about our day.
Truth is, that wasn't normal by any means. As a society, our relationship with homeless people is simple; either you drop a coin or walk by.
About a month and a half later, I got a call from that girl (the one I went on a date with), and she tells me that the pic I posted made her see they were people, not just objects on the streets you walk by like a lamp post.
So over the course of the next few months, she made friends with this guy who was homeless. And so, every day on the way to volunteer at Toronto Sick Kids' Hospital, she'd talk to him about her day, she would sometimes sit and share a snack with him, and got to know him as a person.
Ready for the curve ball?
One day, she found herself sitting in on a meeting to develop a social program for the homeless around the hospital. And she abruptly interrupted the ideas being presented and said, "What good is giving a person who can't afford cable, a TV?" and to my surprise, they agreed with her! She told me they are now developing a more practical program based on the insights from her friend (the homeless one).
This got me thinking about the power of her new perspective. And that power was simply empathy.
It's impossible to connect with people as people because we let ourselves get divided only by borders, but also by our occupations, social status, and other arbitrary self-imposed barriers.
This inspired me to shoot a video series called #7Days, which is a first person perspective of how it feels to be in another person's shoes for a week. The idea is: "If you change the way you look at people, the people you look at change." -- Unknown. By understanding we all come from, we can foster more meaningful relationships and ultimately, a better world for our children. Check it out:
"First seek to understand, then to be understood" - Steven R. Covey
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