What’s your first impulse? Is it compassion – or rejecting judgment? – This reveals so much


I think we can tell a lot about people when we discern their first impulse.

I think we can tell a lot about ourselves when we discern our own first impulse.

What do I mean?

On a corner not far from my house, there is a new “nightly gathering spot” of some homeless folks. A post on our neighborhood on-line community board actually includes this phrasing (I’ve bolded the key phrases):

It isn’t just the homeless causing problems. 

While they have indeed taken over this intersection and businesses in the northwest corner of Abrams & IH635, other criminals are also congregating here.

So, here is one person revealing that his/her first impulse is that homeless people are criminals. I guess, in this person’s mind, it is a crime to be homeless.

I just finished reading Matthew Desmond’s gripping book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. (Read myEvicted earlier blog post with my takeaways by clicking here).   I could dwell on the statistics from the book; here’s the summary:

In 2013, 1 in 8 poor renting families nationwide were unable to pay all of their rent, and a similar number thought it was likely they would be evicted soon. This book is set in Milwaukee, but it tells an American story.

But it is the narrative that is so gripping. From the book:

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. They used to draw crowds. Eviction riots erupted during the Depression, even though the number of poor families who faced eviction each year was a fraction of what it is today. These days, there are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders. There are moving companies specializing in evictions, their crews working all day, every weekday. Low-income families have grown used to the rumble of moving trucks, the early-morning knocks at the door, the belongings lining the curb.
Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on.

This idea – what’s your first impulse, your first reaction, your first thought? — can reveal much. In the way you interact with fellow employees; in the way you think about the poor in your area; in the way you tackle your own deficiencies (or, the way you deny your own deficiencies).

I don’t often quote scripture on this blog, but there is a line about Jesus that is worth pondering:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.

His first impulse was compassion. Maybe ours should be also.

And, in case you are wondering, I’ve had plenty of not-so-compassionate first impulses of my own, through the years.

the-working-poorHere’s a line (not about the homeless, but about this at the bottom of the wage scale) from The Working Poor, by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author David Shipler:

Workers at the edge of poverty are essential to America’s prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed.

Yes, it is.

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