America has a problem with homelessness. We have a lot of people who don’t have a home or a proper place to shelter. And when you don’t have that basic human need met it is hard to bring your best self to the rest of life’s challenges.
I have a homelessness problem too. My problem is that I don’t know how to respond to homeless people. In most areas of my life, I have a well-considered way of thinking about situations. But when it comes to responding to homeless people I still have glitches in my processor.
Do I give them money? Food? Water? Boxes and sleeping bags? Or do I just walk past?
Early in my career, I got paid for a freelance writing project with a bunch of gift certificates to a crummy restaurant chain. I carried those certificates with me and handed them to homeless people. But when they saw the name of the restaurant they usually looked as if they wanted to hand them right back.
On my morning commute last week I saw a homeless man holding a sign at a stoplight. The light was red, so I stopped. Because I remembered that rule from my driver’s education class.
I had my window down and my music up. I was in a great mood on a beautiful morning.
The man on the corner stepped towards me and began nodding his head to my music.
Then he said to me, ‘Man, you are the happiest person I have seen all day!
I smile at him and replied, ‘That’s my thing!’
I asked him his name.
He said, ‘Rick.’
I responded, ‘My name is Adam.’
He shared, ‘I used to be The Humble Artist.’
I replied, ‘You still are aren’t you?’
He said, ‘No.’
I asked what changed.
He confessed, ‘I don’t do art anymore. And I’m no longer humble.’
I said, ‘Neither am I! Deion Sanders once said “They don’t pay nobody to be humble!'”
We both laughed. It was really nice to hear a homeless person laugh.
The light turned green.
And I said “It was nice to meet you, Rick! Have a great day. And do your art!
As I drove through Milwaukee to my downtown office I reflected on my interaction with Rick.
Was our conversation worth more than money or food?
Was it worth anything?
How about the smile and happiness I shared with him?
Or my interest in learning his name?
Or the encouragement to create art?
Did any of that help?
I don’t know.
But I wrote down his name, so I won’t forget.
And I hope that he feels like he made a new friend. And that someone else knows him by name. I hope that he felt like another human respected him as an equal. I hope he knows I am pulling for him to find a home so that he can spend more time thinking about art.
Keep trying to figure out the things you don’t know. Life is a big experiment full of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches and learn what works for you. The aim should be to have a positive impact in your own way. And share what you learn so that others can learn too.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.