Sunday, October 01, 2006

I Know Everything!

I write from the perspective of someone who's "been there," and I notice when I look back at my work that I could be misunderstood if I'm not careful. Let me say this clearly: I do not "know" the homeless. I do not know "what to do" about the problem that faces every city in the world-- the looming clash of cultures. I do not understand the causes, roots, or nature of poverty. Anything I say about what people may or may not be is a gross over-generalization, and I certainly don't have a catch-all solution for anything. That's why I sometimes just tell my story: I figure that when I talk about my personal experiences, I create a piece of the picture, which is better than complete darkness. My dad (you'll find out about him someday) said something that stuck to me:

"Don't believe anything you read and only half of what you see."

He was usually drunk when he said it, and it seems really dumb at a glance, but this little expression launched the critical aspects of my thinking. Let me show how the thought-train goes: If I, who was born into a family of poor alcoholics, homeless, mentally-ill, abusers, and victims, if I, who spent the better part of 5 years suffering in addiction and homelessness myself do not truly comprehend the issues that I and my family experienced, who does?

And when I say that I don't comprehend the issues, I mean that I can't look at somebody who is currently homeless and predict reasonably why they are homeless, or what it will take to get them off the street. I can guess, I can make assumptions, and I can make judgements. I can compare my own life to this person's life in the hope that we share some common threads, but I can't really know what they are going through.

That's why I have little faith in a reporter who is yelling into a microphone from the "frontlines in the war on terror." The fact that he is in the situation means nothing. Even if that reporter gives the microphone to a local, who is more directly impacted by the war, we are still not getting the full picture, though the media would give the illusion that we are.

Let's face it, we would all like to know "what to do," and we would all like to know what is REALLY going on. Some of us are convinced that we understand. I am not one of those people. I think we can only state perceptions, and even the things we claim are "factual" are just facts from one little view. It takes a LOT of these little views strung in a row to get a fuzzy half-picture.

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