Yesterday one of the regulars at the Day Center asked me what I thought of President Obama's State of the Union address. I find it best to veil my politics there and do more listening than talking, so I responded in a limited but truthful way: I was kind of dozing.
I thought it was very disappointing, he said. The same old stuff. Nothing but Washington political rhetoric. The only thing he said that made sense was about education.
(What he favored about the education message wasn't clear, but I expect it had something to do with college loans. This fellow has been getting and defaulting on student loans for years, while managing to find his way back into a college classroom again and again.)
Another guest, I heard second hand, was raving to the director about his love for Obama. The source of his affection seemed to center on how the president's policies made it possible for him to live without working or paying taxes. (For a time he'd done both and found he didn't care for it.)
I hesitate to dwell too much on the man's appreciation of the safety net freebies available to him because his disdain for responsibility corresponds to a common and distorted stereotype of the homeless. But it would be dishonest to deny that his attitude exists.
Federal policies aren't the sole enablers of his responsibility-free life—and the meals, beds and medical care he receives aren't entirely free. Private charities and city, county and state resources also contribute, and he spends his time waiting in lines for food, weathering bureaucratic delays for assistance and sleeping in different places every three days because of shelter rules and capacity. The doctors aren't fooled by attempts to feign ailments that would allow him to obtain medications, and we aren't, either.
Those who volunteer time, drop off clothing and supplies, work in soup kitchens and shelters or pray for poor souls don't like that man's attitude. He is being selfish and his example may well mean we'll see his son as a client one day. But everyone isn't like that and maybe one day he himself won't be.
For myself, I've found I can't spend my day judging how deserving every person is who walks through these doors. Instead, I have to ask what kind of person I want to be and then go about the business of being that guy.
I do wish the president could do more about improving the State of the Union, but he'd have his hands full just with this little segment we see each day, where one man sings his praises and one is full of disdain.