“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
After reading through many concerned, frustrated and compassionate Facebook comments on a local community group with regards to the new Homeless Shelter that opened recently in Lower Gibsons, BC, I would like to make some humble and respectful suggestions. Suggestions which hopefully can help bring the tone of the discussions down a little, and back to a respectful, considerate and compassionate approach. This is more likely to lead to constructive dialogue, which is most likely to lead to a compromise suitable to all, or most parties. No doubt some may never be satisfied with any resolution or compromise. But that should not deter us from at least TRYING to find a compassionate resolution or compromise which meets and addresses the needs of ALL parties involved – especially the concerns among the community around noise, lighting and cigarette smoke.
This is why we are here right? We all share the same sincere and heartfelt altruism, compassion – the desire to relieve suffering – towards those who are homeless or have other physical, emotional or psychological needs. We are all truly and deeply interconnected on many levels (fact, not conjecture) and so the suffering of anyone in our community affects the well-being of the entire community. So the fact that Lower Gibsons has a Homeless Shelter – and my friend Troy and his buddy wont need the tarps and bedding I was going to bring them in the park – is a wonderful thing! I am so very proud to live in Gibsons and to experience and witness so much kindness, generosity and compassion in the community.
“Since all beings are interdependent, their happiness and their suffering concern us intimately. To want to build our happiness on others’ suffering is not only immoral, but unrealistic. Universal love and compassion are the direct consequences of a correct understanding of this interdependence.” (Matthieu Ricard – Altruism)
Although some may also wish to attach additional labels to the homeless – alcoholic, drug addict, criminal – this is not a fair or helpful response. It may be helpful to keep in mind that the science around addiction, psychology and trauma has shown that when our environmental, emotional or belonging needs are not met or are distressed, we tend to seek out an escape from our suffering and this often becomes the foundation for addiction and alcohol/drug abuse.
“The reality is that the filthy, dirt-poor person you’re looking at may well have been abused or neglected as a child. They’ve no doubt been rejected time and again. They’re almost certainly in bad health, physical and mental, and could be addicted to alcohol, drugs or both. If they’re female, it’s likely they’ve suffered domestic violence.”1
Although incidence rates for such activities may be higher among some of the homeless, it is no more helpful or compassionate to paint all homeless persons with the same brush as it is to label all persons of a particular race or heritage with the characteristics of a few, and then deny them equal status or respect. This is considered racism and should not be tolerated or supported any more than we should tolerate the dispassionate, disparaging or dehumanising labels some use towards the homeless, addicted or those living with mental illness. We all bleed the same red blood. We all cry when we are lonely or our hearts are broken. We all shiver when we are cold. We all feel the pain in our bellies if we go days without eating. We all hope, or reach out, for the kindness, compassion and love of family, friends, community and our neighbours. When we imagine or see others in pain, suffering, cold or hungry, most of us FEEL that pain directly as empathy. We can imagine their pain and suffering so clearly, so instinctively we actually experience the same pain, suffering, hunger or anguish. These painful and distressful feelings which we share through empathy for another, we now wish to relieve them of. We don’t wish to suffer any more than they do and so we reach out in some way to help relieve them of their suffering. In turn we relieve our own empathic suffering. This is the nature of compassion, this is altruism, this is Ubuntu, this is being human.
“…altruism seems to be a determining factor of the quality of our existence, now and to come, and should not be relegated to the realm of noble utopian thinking maintained by a few big-hearted, naïve people. We must have the perspicacity to acknowledge this and the audacity to say it.” (Matthieu Ricard – Altruism)
Any new compassionate community initiative, particularly one that may impact the neighbourhood, is going to experience some growing pains. Unexpected and unplanned issues can often arise for both the new Shelter and the community. For many of the homeless who have been living outside in cold damp tents or other makeshift shelters while the rest of us have been safe, warm, dry and fed in the comfort of our homes all winter, there is going to be some understandable joy, relief and happiness at finally having a warm bed to sleep in and a meal in their belly’s. According to a famous psychologist named Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs), our most basic needs as human beings, begins with our physiological and biological needs – air, food, warmth, sleep. And then comes our safety needs – shelter, protection from elements, security, freedom from fear. Only when these two basic fundamental needs are met (physiological and safety), can we then concern ourselves with things like happiness, wellness, belonging, love, self esteem, personal growth etc.
So for those in the neighbourhood who may have experienced some disruptions in their evening routines or atmosphere, maybe allow your new neighbours a bit of leeway for the first few days so they can enjoy the simple pleasures of a roof over their heads, a warm bed, food in their bellies, a safe place and friends to commiserate, or celebrate with, while having a smoke. It has been a long, cold and wet winter, so maybe allow your new neighbours a few days to enjoy some of the things most of us take for granted – like our basic physical and safety needs. Your needs and concerns as neighbours to the Shelter are NOT being ignored or dismissed. In fact they are front and center and just as important as the needs of those who require a Shelter to survive and to feel safe and warm. But maybe you can find an interim solution for yourself and your family with things like blinds for the kids rooms if the lights are too bright. And, possibly having a chat with your kids about the wonderful community act of kindness and compassion that has opened up next to their home. And, how valuable and important it is to help others and to show compassion for those in need. And, that since the Shelter is new, and the (previously) homeless, wet and hungry persons in the community finally have a roof over their heads, they might be a bit noisy for a few days because they are just happy to have a safe, warm and dry place to sleep and food in their bellies. Once things have settled, you may even wish to consider bringing your kids to the shelter at a time arranged with staff, to show them around and to meet some of the new residents in your community. After all, they are no longer “homeless persons” or “street people”, the residents of the Shelter are members of YOUR community and neighbourhood and deserve the same respect and consideration that you give your neighbour in the house next to you.
As a parent myself, as someone who spent a short time on the streets in the 70’s after escaping an abusive home, as someone who has also struggled with addiction and mental illness, as someone who has spent over a decade working with disadvantaged youth and developing programs for them, and as a long-time student of psychology and wellness, I am aware of the science behind early introductions of compassion and altruism for children. Children who are introduced to and are around models of compassionate behaviour, develop those traits for life and along with being a predictor of long-term happiness, even lowers the risk of bullying, or being bullied, in school. There are many benefits to both parents and children, and future generations, when children are introduced to and taught, compassion early.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world.
For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
~ Margaret Mead
Every single home and family in the vicinity of the Homeless Shelter deserves the same respect, kindness and compassion we all show for the homeless and those with other needs most of us will never know. This means that every single family or home which has concerns about the Shelter, should be heard 100% and every step taking (within reason) to meet their needs, answer their questions and if/when needed, find suitable compromises.
“Social networking platforms drove man closer to those in neighbouring continents, while driving him further apart from those in his neighbourhood.”
~ Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Communication & Negotiation
In order to move forward with constructive and respectful negotiation between the Shelter and Neighbours, a proper avenue for communications, meetings and discussions should be determined. As much as we (humans) enjoy our social-media as a platform for venting our frustration and disapproval, it can only be used as an effective platform for negotiations, communications or compromise, if ALL parties are equally engaged and clear guidelines are set for negotiations. Otherwise the discussions on social-media can become one-sided emotionally driven rants which do nothing but get everyone riled up by feeding the flames of ego and personal opinions. No cause, no community service, can be served under such divisive, vitriolic or one-sided social-media discussions. If you feel the need to vent, if you feel you must first express your anger, frustration or disappointment, please do so as respectfully as you can without devaluing or insulting anyone else. Also, try to offer up some options, viable and realistic suggestions or anything else positive and encouraging so everyone knows you are not just here to complain, but that you also wish to be part of a constructive dialogue intended to find a compassionate solution which meets the needs of most parties involved. Everyone wins when we are compassionate and show respect for others, even when, especially when, we are angered, frustrated or disappointed.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
~ Roy T. Bennett
Ok, so now what? Well, the shelter is here now, so complaining about its location, requesting or demanding it be moved, complaining about the (possibly inadequate) process or engagement which preceded the opening of the shelter, is pointless right now. The horse has left the barn, worrying about who left the door open is less important now than trying to figure out how to entice her back. If you still feel the need to try and get the shelter moved, then you will need to pursue that avenue through the Municipal or Provincial avenues available. Here on social-media, or even as part of a possible Neighbourhood Advocacy Group, is not the best or most appropriate avenue to address your desire to have the shelter moved. Your needs are NOT being dismissed here, only encouraged to be delivered to the most suitable place, office or Ministry where you may be the most effective and successful in getting your needs met, your questions answered. Now that the Shelter has opened, we will all be better served if we focus on finding a suitable and mutually acceptable compromise through an open, compassionate, collaborative and respectful process of communication and negotiation.
For those who wish to be part of a compassionate, collaborative and respectful process of negotiation intended to meet the mutual needs of the Shelter, the homeless and the neighbourhood, I would suggest an Advocacy Group of some sort. Someone could meet with the Shelter and a few neighbours to determine the level of interest, and then members of the Advocacy Group could be formed by an equal number of Shelter staff/reps and neighbourhood reps (maybe 2-3 from each). Neighbourhood reps could bring the concerns of the neighbourhood to the table (maybe at a monthly meeting) and negotiate and compromise, with the Shelter to find workable and mutually acceptable solutions to needs/concerns of both the Shelter and the community.
If You Can’t Wait
If your concerns about the Shelter are pressing, immediate and you are not able or willing to allow the time for a more formal process to be developed for negotiation with the Shelter over your concerns, or you are not able to find a suitable interim compromise around the lights, smoke or noise, then arrange to meet with the Shelter. Try to be calm, try not to go in with guns drawn and with only your demands or complaints. Try to come to the table with consideration for all involved – the Shelter, your new neighbours and of course your own needs. Try to mindfully consider the needs of all involved and come up with some practical, fair and meaningful options for a compromise where both your needs, and those of the Shelter and your new neighbours, can be met. Try and do this BEFORE the meeting so you come prepared with fair and mutually beneficial options. Try to come to the table with an intention to find a compromise, rather than a demand for getting all your needs met. If you approach the Shelter with compassion, reasonable requests and a willingness to compromise where it is possible, and come bearing some suggestions, this will all but guarantee that everyone’s needs will be met.
I hope this was in some small way useful to the community and those in the vicinity of the new Homeless Shelter in Lower Gibsons. I have tried to contact the Shelter to volunteer but have not heard back. If anyone would like help starting some sort of Advocacy Group for the community, I would also be happy to help out any way I can. 🙂
- Helping The Homeless
- Homeless Hub
- What Is Compassion and How Can It Improve My Life?
- Compassion: Our First Instinct
- Compassion Is Better than Empathy
- The 3 C’s of Effective Communication
- Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reduce Bullying
- 5 Ways to Instill Compassion in Your Children
- How can we best address NIMBYism regarding homeless shelters?