Monday, October 4, 2010

The Grays of Good and Bad

Volunteering for Health Care for the Homeless has enabled me to meet many interesting people. Most of the people I encounter are experiencing homelessness and are going through extremely trying times in their lives. It is hard not to judge these people by assuming they are in the situation they are because of poor choices. It is a challenge, yet an extremely rewarding one, to have conversations and learn about their stories. This will be my goal in service this year: to overcome preconceptions and learn from firsthand experience.

At Health Care for the Homeless I am a front desk assistant. I check patients in and aid them in any way possible. The other day a man stumbled in at 2:00 in the afternoon, obviously high or drunk, wanting to schedule an appointment. The facility’s procedure is that any scheduling needs to be handled as a walk in, which begins as early as 5:00 in the morning. When I told him he had to come back, he became extremely upset. Then the doctor he wanted the appointment with is booked through October, so he had to come back in two to three weeks. Not only did this man have to come back early in the morning, he had to wait weeks to schedule an appointment and then more for the actual appointment. I felt terrible. He then proceeded to explain to me that he was out of bus tokens and could not get here again. My remorse deepened. I could not do anything further to serve this man.

He became more agitated, and his substance abuse more noticeable. He stumbled in and slurred his speech but I tried to not judge his personal habits. The doctor he wanted to see was for mental health, which only increased my sorrow for the man. However he became rude and started yelling at me and waving his arms. He leaned over the front desk, and to be honest, I was intimidated. This man came in, clearly with deep-rooted problems, and I did my best and took him for a good man. His change sudden change in attitude caught me off guard. To overcome my preconceptions, I convinced myself every person who walked in was a nice person. I was surprised and hurt that the patient was not. After a few minutes however, security got involved and I was told to walk away.

My encounter relates to Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. In the story, the grandmother faces the realities of today’s society in that it is difficult to trust people. Whereas I trusted the patients as Health Care for the Homeless too recklessly, the grandmother was too quick to judge. When the Misfit was recognized, she immediately started telling him he will be a good man if he prayed. This is assuming that he is a bad man to begin with. She says this over and over again; so much so that despite the Misfit’s original plan, he kills her and her family thus forcing him to become the man that she preconceived. The grandmother, due to her judgmental ways, compelled the man to act as she believed him to be; a heartless, Godless murderer. She was not apparent in this view, and tried to cover it up by saying he was a good man repeatedly. The Misfit saw this and killed her.

This ‘good man’ persona inhibits us from finding the real good people. We are all too quick to judge; whether it is in an overly optimistic way like me or condescending and negative like the grandmother. We, as a society, do not strive hard enough to find the real person inside others. We believe there are only two kinds of people, good and bad, and we are so quick to place individuals into these limited and over generalized categories. There is a gray area. If people took the time to know others, and hear their stories, then they can truly determine a person’s ‘goodness’ based on personal experience. I need to learn that the world is not the best or happiest place I dream of, and to keep my guard up a little longer. People that the grandmother personifies, on the other hand, must not be so quick to judge people in a disapproving way. Every person is different. Ever person has their own stories. A true good person takes the time to learn that.

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