Happy and Homeless: Recognizing Another’s Human-ness

by Dr. Christopher on August 19, 2010

“I see you.” ~ Greetings by the N’avi in Avatar  

Imagine what it must be like to be ignored by the world.

A while ago, I became friendly with a homeless man named “Happy.”  Legless but full of joy, Happy was forced to move from New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. 

So his family, having been in the area in the past,  moved to Asheville, NC.  There, he set up shop on a daily basis in the same location next to a bus-turned cafe, asking for money so that he could pay for a motel each night for his family. 

The first thing I noticed about Happy was that the people who took the time to interact with him genuinely enjoyed each moment spent.  Not everyone interacted with him this way though. 

While a very liberal place, not everyone can or is willing to give every homeless person change, or even, their focus if only for a second. After conversing for some time, we moved onto the topic of those who ignored him.   

Happy revealed to me, “You know, I really understand if people don’t want to or even can’t give me anything.  If only people would acknowledge me as a person with a smile and ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you.‘  That would be enough to make my day.”  

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I was walking with friends down the streets and had to use Happy’s reply to several homeless: “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”  A friend, being of a similar spiritual nature as myself, began using the comment too.  

This observation made me wonder.  How many of us are simply unaware of how we treat fellow human beings on a daily basis?  Unconsciously, are we numbed by the stress of our daily lives (work, family, time) or even the overwhelming majority of people who look back at us with the same blank stares?   

Human beings are social beings.  Evolutionarily speaking, we depend on our fellow humans in order to survive in the world.  Especially now in the days of specialization, dividing tasks has created a dependence on others.  Despite what some may or may not contribute, being human and having “life” makes each of us special.  Ignorance and numbness create more suffering in this world.  Awareness and acknowledging everyone’s human-ness can only make the world a happier place and you, a better version of yourself.  

Try this.  Make eye contact and smile at every individual who passes by you on the street.  Work up the courage and sprinkle in a “hello” here and there.  Some common responses that you may receive: the individual may look behind himself to see if you’re talking to the imaginary person behind him; or out of unexpectedness, a stutter of “He-he-llo” as if trying to find the words from the depths of one’s vocal cords.  But imagine what one recognition of someone could do for that person out of a thousand other blank stares in any given day!  

We each can make an individual’s day by simply recognizing the “human-ness” in that person.   

7 Ways To Recognize Other’s Human-ness

  1. To the homeless: Look at them in the eyes and say “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”
  2. To passersby: Make eye contact, smile, and say “Hello.”
  3. To your neigbor/mailman/garbageman: Smile and wave.
  4. To your waiter/waitress: Ask for her name.  Most don’t expect it.
  5. To those you just meet (if courageous enough): Shake hands … shake with both hands … give a hug … f*** it and kiss them on the cheek or the neck. 
  6. To a forgotten friend or associate: Send an unexpected message saying how much you appreciated their time or efforts in the past. 
  7. To your significant other: Say “I love you” at least everyday, Carlos Mencia forewarns us.

Namaste ~ a Sanskrit word, commonly used by those involved with Yoga or Hinduism, meaning “the Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in you.”  

How have you gone out of your way to make someone’s day?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

KB August 20, 2010 at 6:15 am

OK….so, well here in Hawaii it is very common to walk by and say hello or just strike up a convo with anyone and everyone no matter who and where. However, there are more homeless then you could ever imagine. Most of them are in their own areas not bothering anyone. But when a lot of them are asking for money its usually for booze and/or drugs. I know this because (if you came to visit you would see that) the sate/gov gives them food/water for free….so the homeless here, some of them when you talk to them want to stay or be homeless (usually not the ones asking for money). Some are comfortable working as little as they do just to get by on a tent on the beach. Hope this is making sense I was drinking tonight. Either way I have never been in a place where so many people have gone out of their way just to give and never expect anything in return (aloha spirit). You also get the complete opposite. I have never seen so many people that expect soo much to be given to them. Its a damn confusing place here with a lot of acceptance, racism, and soo much love and kindness that you could only understand from being here for a while….ill post another comment in a day or two when my thoughts are clear… i think…..by the way being a teacher is all about going out of your way all day every day…its extremely unselfish and people need to talk to my gf about that

Christopher August 20, 2010 at 12:57 pm

DK…your profession as a teacher is part of the reason why I have so much respect for both you and Kristen. Teachers, especially the good ones, are vastly underappreciated. Only part of why I love you.

It does seem like a different place in Hawaii. I’m not sure what the answer to the homeless is, but I know that ignorance doesn’t help anything. You have more experience dealing with them than I do. I’m curious to hear more about it.

KB August 20, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Or get your beautiful butt out here and see for yourself…a couple of the best students Kristin has or had live in a homeless shelter. They come from a tough life but clearly make the best of it…

Dave K April 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm

While interesting, I have no reason to believe a word of this story. The homeless man has no name other than “Happy”? Forgive me for being cynical, but if you feel compassion for others, a sob story isn’t necessary to get one involved.

Dr. Christopher April 29, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Dave K … fair enough. I didn’t even think to ask him his name. My intention for sharing this experience was because it affected my life. I figured, maybe it could affect others?

Appreciate the comment, nonetheless.

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