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  • James.C

    I receive email from Lumosity. Filtering things out is one of the core cognitive skills for doing anything hard.

    There's a famous experiment where, if people are counting basketball passes between the players in the white shirts, they don't notice a gorilla beating its chest nearby. So, as people have noticed below, homeless people are not the only ones who get ignored.

    I don't know how to make a world which both offers people freedom to allocate their cognitive resources, and reliably notices and responds to suffering.

  • aditya thakur

    This experiment was mean to these people. It made them feel really bad about themselves. And I agree with spreadthewordmetoyou that we don't notice everyone we see. If they had performed an experiment in which their family members were dressed as rich executives sitting in a cafe, even then they wouldn't have recognised them. If you are walking down the street you don't always stay on the lookout for your family members. If you are busy you might miss someone you know even if you knew that they were in that area.

    But this brings up an interesting point. Human population has grown so much and we live in such high density and yet we are more disconnected than ever from each other. Social networks, smart phones, might help us stay in touch with our high school friends but they distract us from paying attention to the people around us.

    And then there's yet another point. These are homeless people in NYC. What about the rest of the world. People we will never physically see if we don't watch international news. Billions of people dying of malnutrition, farmers committing suicide because they can't afford to buy pesticides, beggars on the streets of India just rotting away slowly. We don't see them and we don't want to think about them either.

    I think the main point I'm trying to make is that we as humans are not as good at empathy as we are in maintaining our bubble of illusion which allows us to live our own life without caring about the rest of humanity.

    • Lindsey Miller

      I was with you right up until that last line. I live in a city, though not as densely populated as NYC, and it takes physical and mental effort to ignore homeless people. I have gotten better at it over the years, but there are a handful of reasons why a person would do so that do not include, as you put it, not "caring about the rest of humanity" or not "good at empathy ". Are you describing yourself, people you know, or just carrying the party line?

      I agree that there needs to be a wake up call for people who may have become numb to the issue, but imo those people needing it are not the majority of those walking down the street every day.

      Homelessness is a heart wrenching and COMPLICATED issue. And the (newish) dynamics of adapting to living in city environments are complicated as well.

      Were the people in the video specifically known to be oblivious or insensitive to homelessness? Or were they policy makers? If not, then sadly I think this exercise was a complete waste of time.

      If we really care about homelessness, we need to target message(s) to policy makers and the voting public as a whole. Trying to guilt-trip pedestrians one at a time, when there is little that they individually can do about it, is a waste of resources.

      • aditya thakur

        In the last line I was describing my observation of humanity in general. I'm sure there are exceptions in both directions but imo the bell of the curve lies in not caring much about others. Or maybe I'm just too pessimistic.

        I personally am not good at empathy when it comes to one on one interaction with someone but I do feel a deep sense of social responsibility about all of humanity. In my experience most people are the opposite of that. They can feel empathy in one on one interactions but find it hard to empathize with humanity in general. This is just my opinion and I'm not saying I'm better than everyone else.

        You are right that homelessness is complicated. It is a small part of the bigger problem of income inequality and worldwide poverty. And you are right that policy makers can make a bigger change in these matters.

        But I think that to say that the government should do something about poverty is also another way of rationalising and maintaining our bubble. It's like saying I care about the world but what can I do on my own, the government should do something and if there are any politicians who are willing to do some real work in this regard I'll vote for them and be done with my social responsibility.

        I don't know what every individual alone can do about world poverty. I have no formula or list of steps to follow. But I do believe that every individual should think about doing something, in whatever capacity. 7 billion brains thinking about it might come with at least a handful of good ideas. 3.5 billion people helping 1 person each will change the whole world.

        As for me, I live minimalistically and have reduced my consumption and I share my opinions on forums such as this, in order to do my part.

        To sum up we are agreeing that this video doesn't serve the right purpose, you disagree with me that most people don't care about humanity and I disagree with you that only policymakers can change the world.

  • spreadthewordmetoyou

    This is an experiment that means well and the people that created it have big hearts and certainly want to "change the way we see the homeless", But it is largely a bogus experiment. I just want to ask why did you upset these people for your cause? Of course they did not notice their relatives. Most...no, pretty much all of us walk by homeless and working class, and executives and whoever, without looking at them, all the time. Especially in a big city where you may pass hundreds in a day. You're going somewhere or doing something and you can't get up close and look each one over to determine if they are somebody you know. On some level, I don't tink they'd appreciate people getting in their face or their space. We should help people for sure. But not feel bad because we walk by and don't recognize a relative dressed poorly sitting on the streets. This is like an entrapment experiment. It appears you played on peoples emotions for sensationalist (selfish) reasons. Of course they didn't recognize them. Duh. It looks like you upset them too. Made them feel bad about themselves. Shame on you!

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Definitely a good point you bring up about how both a homeless person and someone walking by may not even think of the need for acknowledgement. Perhaps you should voice your concerns to people who made the video for NY Rescue Mission? It seems like they were just trying to raise awareness about the shelter. http://nycrescue.org/

      • spreadthewordmetoyou

        That isn't the central point I was making. But an okay point. I'm saying yes, help the homeless, but don't feel bad because you wouldn't recognize one for another while you're walking by. Of course not. Not saying they are invisible to you but you don't have to be scouting out the line up everyday. And whether they were family or strangers, regardless, they still need help. I'm siteing that the whole experiment was bogus. And yeah, there is the chance that somebody might be embarrased if you knew them and called them out on being homeless. Just try to help (everybody) if you can. And we all can. Maybe even just offer a smile and lift their spirits a bit.

  • Isabar

    That could have been me, in NYC in the late 80's, walking past my my oldest sister.
    She was born mentally and physically handicapped, has the mind of a 12 year old, back then she lived on the street, spending her days sitting by the altar at St Francis--praying and embroidering old rags, her nights anywhere she wanted.
    She had wanted to be a Franciscan nun, never understood why they didn't want her. She loved the brown hooded robes with the white cord. I had a dressmaker sew a dozen brown habits for her. She wore them all the time. The Franciscan priests didn't like it.
    Parishioners would invite her to spend the night at their homes, and she would--for a day or two, then move on. She didn't trust anyone.
    Walking past her I would have been cautious, hoping she would not run away. She would be thinking I was coming to take her home by force (I wasn't).
    Sometimes she would stand still and I, keeping my distance, would tell her about doctors appointments I had set up for her, and that she had a home to come to whenever she wanted.
    She couldn't read or write, but she always kept those doctors appointments.
    I wanted her to be safe with us, not living on the street, but I also knew she was so paranoid and suspicious of her own family, she would never again want to live with us. She had most of her life, and it had been very painful for her--we never knew how to deal with her condition.
    Back then, living on the streets, she had never been happier. She was free, going anywhere she wanted, carrying shopping bags filled with her precious possessions others would call junk.
    I did what I could for her, and for other homeless people in the city. I worked with a homeless organization.
    When Giuliani became city Mayor, she was sent sent to Bellevue, against her will, during a round up of mentally ill homeless. It took me years to get her back to Florida where I lived by then. During the transition she broke her hip, which went misdiagnosed for days.
    After the surgery she never walked again.
    Today she lives in nursing home, severely crippled. She looks forward to my visits.
    Take me around the block sister, she says when she sees me. When are you coming back?
    I just got here, I say, pushing her wheelchair. Your birthday is coming up May 3rd. I'll bring you a cake.
    Blue, she says. I want a blue cake.

    • Tom Maybrier

      This is a remarkable and striking comment. Thank you for sharing.

  • jkobara

    This is so much bigger than the homeless. We are numb to need. We can't see people, but we don't want to see what is "below" us. Extreme poverty of all forms is edited out of our consciousness. Our empathy muscles get only selectively used. If we open our eyes, we will open our hearts.

  • Vanessa Soto

    It should be shocking to us not that homless people are ignored but that they even exist. Is anything being done to PREVENT homlessness?

    • James.C

      There's a liberal paradox here, where ordering people to live somewhere different, such as Isabar describes, can easily turn bad.

  • Melissa S. McHugh

    This is a great experiment, and definitely an eye-opener for the people involved. However, I think awareness is just the tip of the iceberg. To play "Devil's Advocate", I've been accosted more than once by a homeless person, and the situation quickly became hostile when I've declined to give any money - which is often sparse in my world. As a result, for my own safety, I will typically go out of my way to avoid a homeless person. While we raise public awareness, I think we also need to create opportunities for our homeless community members to generate income without having to panhandle. Here in Seattle, for example, Real Change offers homeless people the option to generate income by selling the organization's magazine.

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      Real Change definitely offers an opportunity for homeless to have some dignity when approaching people on the street and I like that. I never really offer money to the homeless without asking them what they need. I always start a conversation bec sometimes they just need to talk to someone. For example, the other day, I asked a homeless pregnant girl what she needed outside a grocery store and she said shirts and food so I got her shirts and a food gift card and we talked about her situation. I think interactions like that help the homeless- though I understand your situation. I like approaches like HandUp: http://www.good.is/video/tech-startup-handup-is-attempting-to-tackle-homelessness-using-mobile-and-web, which allocates funds for specific needs via an app- not sure how the logistics work, but it brings up a relevant point- not every homeless person feels comfortable selling magazines for something like Real Change or even asking for money by panhandling and the people in that video weren't panhandling- yet people ignore homeless people more often than not because they're not comfortable being approached. How can we change that mindset? If you've had one bad experience or several with a homeless person, I understand you may not change that mindset- but I wonder how you can approach homeless people differently? Maybe you don't want to- and I get that but I do think we can all approach each other in a more inviting way. Even people these days ignore each other by putting their heads in their cell phones. What happened to at least smiling at and acknowledging others?