Philosophy and the Homeless

I went for a walk a couple of days ago to the park. I was walking in one of the nicest neighborhoods of Mexico City, everything around me was gorgeous. The artificial lakes, the dark green trees that kept the mist from the rain leftovers, even art strategically placed along the park so that you always have something to entertain your eyes and your mind with. Not just that, but also the smell of evening coffee and cinnamon churros spiced the air making the walk most enjoyable.

As I kept walking I noticed a homeless person walking in the opposite direction I was walking to. He was about my age (29), and I couldn’t stop myself from noticing his face, his demeanor, his stance, his eyes. The guy looked lost. His eyes were pointing either up, or to the sides, never towards people. It looked as if he hadn’t seen anyone directly in the eyes for years. He was very dirty, his pants and shirt made up for a singular, black stain. He was also carrying a small bag, a bag, I was sure, had all his belongings in it.

He stood out massively at the scene. But this is not unusual, there’s no shortage of homeless people in the cities. But this guy was around my age. This guy was walking in the same park and yet our experiences couldn’t be more different. He was lost in his mind. I felt terrible empathy for him.

Have you ever been to a place, or a situation, in which you feel you don’t belong? Maybe it was a party full of Ph.D.’s talking about topics so elevated and complicated that you couldn’t help yourself but by sipping your wine and pretend to be interested while your girlfriend is clearly amazed by such interesting personages. The feeling of inferiority is universal, everyone feels it. And it doesn’t feel good. Now, you can cure it with sparkling, eye-opening (getting out of Plato’s cave) philosophy, or by becoming better than anyone else (which is impossible and the power trip will ultimately leave you worse).

Now, can you imagine a world, where you feel like that, all the freaking time? So much so, that you don’t even dare to look anyone in the eye? Kind of like Theon Greyjoy, after being castrated and humiliated for years( if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones). It must be a living nightmare.

I don’t know what went through this young man’s head as he saw the big houses with their grandiose colonial stone-carved terraces and balconies. When he smelled the cooked salmon and all the other delicacies, made specially odorful so that people walking by were lured into the restaurants.

Thinking about the incident now, I wish there were still philosophers in the street as it was in ancient Greece or Rome, I wished healers of the mind still roamed around.

“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.”
Frederick Douglass

Maybe I should have been that person. But I wasn’t, it just startled me for a while, he was not the first homeless person I had seen that evening. And that’s a problem, when you live in a big city, you go through a process of desensitization. You have to, there’s just too many homeless, crazy, or lost people around asking for money or food. You cannot help absolutely everyone around because then you’d end yourself without any money.

Maybe I should’ve told him about Stoic philosophy. Maybe I should’ve told him about the externals, about how all the beautiful things we were seeing around us were nothing in comparison to the grandness of his will. About how there was a man called Viktor Frankl, that lived through the worst possible horrors any human can go through, and came out victorious, in his mind.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl

But who the fuck am I to lecture a kid in the streets?! From my position?! Saying, come on! Just don’t care about all these pretty things, you don’t really need them! When every billboard is constantly telling him that he does. Constantly showing him impossibly beautiful women that he cannot even dream of calling a girlfriend but in a magazine for a while if he can get one.

Maybe I should tell him about Diogenes, living in the streets, voluntarily? But, come on, honestly, if I would’ve been in his position, the whole thing would’ve sounded ludicrous in my mind. “This asshole telling me not to care about delicious food and nice things, what kind of idiot must he think I am?!”

“Haven’t you heard?! Philosophy is dead! Welcome to the advertising age!”

It really saddens me that philosophy, so badly needed for so many desperate people, has fallen so far away from us. Better said, from the people that actually need it. If you’re reading this, you are very lucky and I’d say a wise person as well. Because first, you are able to read this through your phone or computer, so you already have access to information.

But, more importantly, you’re interested in reading things that will maybe (if I’m a little bit successful) expand your thinking. You’re interested in questioning that billboard and thinking for yourself.

Being able to philosophize and practice Stoicism or any other philosophy is a luxury for a few. The biggest philosophy group of Stoicism owned By Donald Robertson has 80k people in it, any famous influencer has more than that, way, way more than that. It’s hard, because cultivating the mind takes time, and we’re constantly being bombarded by attention-seeking entities, always distracted from what’s actually happening in the backstage of the world and of your life.

What to do about the states of affairs? Difficult question, also very personal, but we need to start somewhere. I’ll finish with two quotes from Camus.

“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead
Walk beside me… just be my friend”

and

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

― Albert Camus

Thanks for reading, 

Ricardo Guaderrama 

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2 thoughts on “Philosophy and the Homeless

  1. Something that the Buddhist tradition regularly reinforces is not just how special a human birth is, but how special it is to have a human birth with the causes and conditions in place that allow for the pursuit of liberation. The reality is that the vast majority of us simply lack the means to pursue a path that will lead to the eradication of suffering rather than a cycle of fleeting satiation and relief. For some of us this is due to the economic realities of where we were born, for others it is due to innate psychological predispositions. Thus one should always remember just how blessed you are to be in a position to put these teachings into practice.

    I remember back before I converted to Buddhism, when I was incarcerated for drug related crimes, there was a new inmate who got sent into our dorm. As soon as he walked in, all the other inmates from his neck of the city instantly recognized the guy and spread the word that he was a stick up kid from a particularly nasty neighborhood, and that he should be avoided at all costs. I remember watching as he went from cube to cube, doing what perhaps was the most transparent impression of a person interested in the conversation as his eyes darted between the lockers under our bunks. I remember the conversation between me and my people about how the guy was a liability that we couldn’t have around, and what needed to be done to make sure he didn’t try anything. But most of all I remember what I felt as I jumped down from my bunk and got in the guys face as he made his second trip to our cell (the whole unit had turned on him by that point and he was just looking for a place to be safe rather than planning out how he’d rob us). I had this sense of just how everything had gone so wrong in that guys life for him to end up in that position. How his own inability to even comprehend, never mind seek out and pursue basic human connections arose from his own life: likely an absent father and a mother too enamored with the crack pipe to show her child any love, and how these issues just got worse and worse as the sequence of calamities that was his life caused him to respond by surrounding himself with likeminded people who in turn increased his conviction that there was nothing more to this world besides the distinction between those who take and those who are taken from. I try to remember that man whenever I find myself thinking that any of this stuff is easy, or that “if this person only had this one thing, all his problems would be taken care of.”

    1. Geez man, this was a tough read. You are right, some of us are extremely lucky to even be able to read things that will expand your mind and show you different. It’s hard to read philosophy when you are hungry and your parents are smoking crack. This is no easy topic, but I get your point. Life can be fucked up, and we need to accept that.

      Still, I believe each person has a sense of how he or she can be of benefit for humanity. No one has the same circumstances and there is no specific recipe for helping out with humanity. But that individual intention and effort, that is the place I believe we all have to work on to make things better.

      Cheers mate.

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