We have a tendency to group up. It’s human nature. We’re conditioned to feel connected, safe with people who look, behave, and feel familiar. Like ourselves. And we look after our “tribes”. Whether it be a religious, work, or friend group. We advocate and protect our members.
But every morning as I drive to work, I can’t help but notice the growing homeless population in Los Angeles. And truly, every major city.
And I constantly ask myself, as a member of the human race, the tribe which claims us all, what is my responsibility to these people?
The Torah states well over 30 times that “we shall treat the stranger kindly, as you were once a stranger”.
Why must we be reminded so many times? Isn’t it obvious that we must treat others, including strangers, kindly?
Well, in truth, I was afraid of homeless people as a child. Afraid when they would shout or pace back and forth. All signs of mental illness. And more often than not, homelessness follows untreated mental illness. Now that I work in the field of mental health treatment and do much work with homeless and at-risk populations, I know better. I know not to fear the unfamiliar, but to reach for understanding. To learn and identify with their story so that I can help.
It wasn’t until I made a concerted effort to explore the issue of homelessness, to get to know the mental health challenges and social disadvantages that many face, that I was able to exercise a deeper level of compassionate. Focus more on that which connects us versus that which separates us. And ultimately, understand everyone as my tribe member.
It may feel unnatural to help or reach out to a stranger. Someone who doesn’t fit within your current circles. But a stranger is only someone we haven’t yet found a connection with.
So what is my obligation to the homeless community? To serve them with the same degree of humanity I would anyone else. And that requires more than giving money here and there, it requires human connection. I will introduce myself, say hello, and acknowledge them as my fellow man.
This week, I challenge us all to seize opportunities to exercise humanity, to show compassion. I’m not suggesting you put yourself in danger, but even a warm smile and a simple hello create a connection. For those who feel glanced over and “other than”, these ordinary actions can feel extraordinary. These simple gestures spur progress, kindness and empathy from which we all benefit.
Accountability, Community, Unconditional Love.
-Asher Gottesman, CEO & Founder of Transcend Recovery Community