We often judge people we don’t know. Without knowing their stories, we allow our stereotypes or fears to influence our judgement.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of presenting at the Social Justice Conference in Maple Ridge. I had 90 minutes to spend with teens from Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, ranging in age from 13-18. With an increase in the number of homeless people living on streets in our community, homelessness has become a hot topic receiving much attention from local media. As a starting point, I asked the students to share their own experiences associating with people who have experienced homelessness. Some students had participated in clothing drives, others had volunteered to prepare food but very few had ever met someone who is homeless. I asked them to think of words that describe their perception of the homeless. This worlde captures their thoughts:
The students then had the opportunity to learn from other students who have spent time on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and in Coquitlam Shelters. They saw photos of local homeless people and heard about their journeys in life. I shared with them my experience with Project HELLO – as outlined here in a talk I gave at TEDx WestVancouver.
At the end of the workshop, after knowing the stories behind the faces of homelessness, the students took some time to once again anonymously post their perception of homelessness. This worlde captures their perception of homelessness, just 90 minutes later:
As I read the anonymous post in notes I shed a few tears. In just 90 minutes, after hearing stories, our students used compassion, empathy and kindness to see homelessness through a different lens.
It makes me wonder how often we all judge our neighbours, co-workers, and strangers that surround us. When we open our hearts and lead with love we recognize that we are all human, we all have a story, and we are all more alike than different.
Beautiful lessons. Your work reignites my confidence in the possibilities of schooling. Thanks for challenging the walls that often separate lessons from the world beyond, and the stories we create about ourselves and others.