How to Care About Not Caring

I live in a metropolis. Naturally, for us city dwellers, mornings can be filled with aggravation as we attempt to navigate the unsightly conduit of the infamous “rush hour.” To make matters worse, I live in a suburb nearly 30 minutes from the office without traffic. For those not good at traffic math, that ends up being roughly 50-60 minutes of traffic...on a good day.

With this in mind, you can bet that we suburbia-lovers get as creative as possible when planning our morning routes. First, many of us start out the morning glancing at a traffic report from a phone or TV screen. Second, we look for our route on the overhead traffic time signs on the freeways. For me, this is usually the point at which I begin to plan my genius route planning skills. Well, they’re not really genius and they definitely aren’t skills because I always seem to end up on the worst roads. That is, until last year.

2014 was my year! This was when a friend spilled his secret to me—he takes a shortcut through the airport. This was great news for two reasons: 1) It was a brilliantly crafted shortcut. 2) I absolutely love airports and airplanes. My friend’s secret basically combined the two best things ever. I know you’re wondering: yes, these are the things I get excited about.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, I take this route almost every morning and it is still the best I’ve found! Each morning, I get to drive through the airport just in time to see the morning rush of airplanes taking off and landing. Some mornings I’m lucky enough to pass under the overpass while a 600-ton plane travels on the tarmac directly above my head. I know, I’m getting giddy chills of excitement just thinking about it too.

Weirdly, even though I have my route permanently planned, I still resort to checking the traffic each morning. Mornings are a process that requires acute attention to detail and sometimes it pays off. Except for one thing—my route from the airport to the office.

Upon passing through the airport area, I take surface streets into the city to avoid the mess on the freeways. Each morning, I approach a high capacity intersection that assists the light rail as well as regular car traffic. I’m usually stuck sitting in traffic at the light for a few minutes. This is where I realize that I’ve started to zone out. However, I wish I could say that it was innocent zoning out. Embarrassingly, this it was somewhat intentional. 

I Can Be A Terrible Person

Every single morning, the intersection I’m at is the working place for homeless people begging for money or food. In the early days of me taking this route, I paid attention to the individuals walking past my car and felt bad for them. Most of them have signs, some more creatively written than others. After a few mornings of seeing them and feeling sorry, I found myself sizing them up. I started to assess the extent of their homelessness as they passed by. Basically, the guy who looked cleaner probably needed less money than the man dressed in worn out flip-flops and mud-filled socks. 

This assessment process went on for months. I’d never given any of them money, but I took it upon myself to categorize those who needed it more.

After a few months, my assessment game grew uninteresting as I started seeing the same ones in, what seemed like, a daily rotation. From here, my thoughts grew more frustrated. I would ask myself: “Why does the city allow these people on the streets like this? It’s literally 115 degrees out today! Why don’t police get these people off the street and into a shelter?”

After this, judgment would set in. I would wonder how so many homeless people could survive in the city without making use commuters uncomfortable with begging at our intersection.

Then, I turned cynical when I saw people give them money. I believed that their money would be put to better use if they just gave it to a bigger organization aimed at helping them. I mean, so many could make this argument, even still.

Awareness Fades

Shockingly, all of these postures weren’t the troubling ones to me. A couple of weeks ago on my normal trip into work, a homeless man passed my car with his sign. As he passed, I made eye contact with him then consciously thought: “I need to get used to not giving them attention.” And I proceeded to look forward as if the man wasn't even there.

Within minutes I realized what I had just started doing. Maybe you don't notice it either. Here's what I was doing: I was literally training myself to be ignorant. I went from the reality that these were struggling people and managed to turn them into an issue. Only shortly after, this issue would be an issue that I would convince myself not to care about at all.

Alone in the car, I asked myself out loud, “What the h*** is wrong with me? I’m finding a way to perfect the art of ignorance!”

Thinking about the fact that I made a concerted effort to not pay attention to the homeless man, I started to realize two things:

1. Just like caring, it actually takes effort to not care.

Even though I judged the people giving the homeless people money, at least they were involved in the issue—they were doing something. They realized that the figures passing by their cars each morning were, in fact, humans that were hurting. 

Yet, I managed to use my energy to convince myself that their struggle shouldn’t matter; that they didn't matter.

2. The path to ignorance is slow and you actually spot it ahead of time.

Each morning, I take painstaking attention to detail to ensure that I have an enjoyable drive into work; yet, once I leave the airport, I failed to see this growing posture of apathy in my heart.

From the beginning, I humanized these homeless people, feeling for their struggle. But soon, they became a game, then they became an issue, then they became something to judge.

I began to dehumanize them the second I stopped realizing the extent of their struggle. I stopped giving them the humanity that they invariably deserved.

Instead of brainstorming ways to help their situation (or, dare I say, brainstorm ways to simply love them in the midst of their situation), I used my energy to write off the homeless people AND those who were trying to help the homeless people.

It happened without me even knowing it.

It’s fascinating that I could sit in this position—a position where I blog each week encouraging two communities to love one another. My whole purpose is to raise awareness of the challenge that we’re having living between the Church and the gay community. Yet, I unknowingly fall into the trap of ignorance in other areas of my life.

I’m not completely sure what the “issue” is.

Maybe it’s homelessness, maybe it’s a hurt group of gay people, or maybe it’s a hypocritical Church of Christians. I’m quickly learning that our ignorance of suffering isn’t helpful. 

More importantly, ignorance in our lives is easier than we think to spot. I just have to realize that, possibly, our comfortable drive isn’t the most important thing when we wake up each morning.

How do we correct this? We have to keep caring more about people and less about issues. Lesson learned.