A misplaced power

May 11, 2023

Leaving the grocery store today, I saw a homeless man standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign stating he was a Vietnam veteran. Pulling up to the stop sign, several well-established narratives, conditioned in my mind after years of exposure, passed through my consciousness, allowing me to recognize them for what they were. The man passed the first authenticity test: he looked about the right age.

The most established societally sanctioned mental story led off in my brain: “How do I know this guy is even a veteran? He’s probably just going to spend any money I give him on alcohol; what if he’s trying to fool me?”

This storyline preys on perhaps our greatest vulnerability, pride, through the fear of a tarnished self-image versus the near certainty of positively influencing the homeless man’s life. Fear of a loss of face in the event of being duped feeds the simplistic, juvenile identity so common in modern society, nourishing it until nothing can be seen beyond the self-imposed prideful mirage as the honest belief that mind and body comprise the totality of our existence takes hold.

A modicum of awareness dispels the ludicrous notion of putting pride on equal footing with a man’s life. Growing frustrated with my indecision in such a simple matter, I turned the car nearly 90 degrees to the prevailing traffic while performing the necessary contortions to reach my wallet. I held a bill out the open passenger window. This man needed money to survive but had none. I had money, more than I needed.

How have we as a society come to act so callously in our judgment—regardless of the veracity of the man’s veteran status—of a person’s life, confused and lost, but still a living, breathing being? Just a thought for your consideration on this beautiful sunny day.

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