Laziness doesn’t exist

It is helpful to respond to a person with curiosity rather than judgement. I learned this from a friend of mine, the writer and activist, who publishes under the name “Mik” Kim is a big fan of the acceptance of homeless and disabled people. Their writing about both subjects is some of the most illuminating, bias-breaking work I have ever encountered. Kim is brilliant, but it is also because at various points in their life, Kim has been both disabled and homeless.

It makes sense to need a drink or a cigarette in that context. Kim told me that if you are laying out in the cold, drinking alcohol may be the only way to warm up. A few smokes may be the only way to kill hunger. Sometimes you just need to score something to make the withdrawal symptoms go away so you can survive, if you are dealing with all this while also fighting an addiction.

Kim taught me that judging a homeless person for wanting to buy alcohol or cigarettes is stupidity. The nights are cold, the world is unfriendly, and everything is uncomfortable when you are homeless. It is hard to rest easy when you are sleeping under a bridge, in a tent, or at a shelter. You are likely to have injuries or chronic conditions that bother you persistently, and little access to medical care to deal with it. You probably don’t have a lot of healthy food.

It is easy to impose rigid expectations on a person when you don’t fully understand their context, what it feels like to be them every day, and the small annoyances and major traumas that define their life. The homeless should get to work. Most of them have mental health symptoms and physical ailments and are fighting to be recognized as humans. They are not able to get a good night’s rest or a good meal for weeks or months at a time. I can’t go a few days without craving a drink or making an irresponsible purchase, even in my comfortable, easy life. They need to do better.

People who have been homeless think this way. They would like to moralize the decisions of poor people to comfort themselves about the world’s problems. It is easier to think that homeless people are responsible for their own suffering than it is to acknowledge the situational factors.

It is possible that a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you. It is that simple. Kim and their writing made me aware of this fact. I did not learn that from a psychology class. I find myself applying it to all kinds of behaviors that are mistaken for signs of moral failure, and I have yet to find one that can be explained and empathized with.

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