For whatever reason, sometimes our brains decide that they want to etch an image deep into our minds never to be forgotten; almost as if our minds take a photo of something we have experienced and stores it in the long term vault of our brain. We all have them, and for me this was a recent addition to the vault.
It was a rainy, cold and all around miserable enough morning and I was on my way to catch the train into London, around 7am. There is an alley way which is a shortcut to the station that I walk through and for whatever reason on this morning whilst half way down the damp alley I looked back and saw a brief but strong image that burnt itself into my head. It took over my commute and the ideas to catch up on some emails on the train went out the window as I pondered the scene.
What I saw was the local homeless man and a businessman, the businessman’s face didn’t register in my mind in terms of features but only the stress it portrayed in that moment, a portrayal which has become everything I have grown to dislike about the modern working lifestyle of major cities, it’s the briefcase, the a suit and tie, the long business jacket that is totally impractical in the rain and the phone, the phone which is out and mid email as its pet multitasks the rushed powerwalk to the train with the raging inbox. The two crossed paths in the small space at the end of the alley, the businessman who had no idea whom he walked passed, probably too busy typing “Best regards, Businessman No.2234” at the bottom of a snotty email in his stressed out frenzy and the homeless man who seemed oddly relaxed. The homeless man, was walking almost like a child, he was swinging a piece of rope around which was about as long as a baguette and strolling along calmly, seeming like he had not a care in the world. The contrast between the two was so startling that I spent the morning thinking about it, and have returned to the thought many times since then and now months later I am writing it down, but why?
I am definitely not saying that the homeless man has a better life as I have seen the hardship this poor chap goes through as I walked passed his bed (which is often doorstep) many times and regularly see him holding cans of beer that I have never even heard of, but in that moment he looked much more free and relaxed than the businessman. And it was this that I kept thinking about. I started running through scenarios in my mind as to the two’s circumstances and situations.
The businessman has a lovely wife and kids and big house but they have a huge mortgage. They have 2 flashy cars and the cleaner comes 2 times a week, the window cleaner 2 times a year and the nanny every day at 8am to bring the kids to school, do the ironing and pick the kids up again. The expenses are sky high, the cars, the home, the nanny and cleaners. The fancy new sofa to match the oak floor, train tickets, new suits and 700 TV channels. The list grows on as the man ages, missing the important for things that will be forgotten. His commitment to the high expenses, big mortgage and living above his means has signed the dotted line for him to be forever a slave to his employer, forever a slave to money in an attempt to sustain what he has started. The stress of such a situation must be crippling.
Then we have the homeless man, he knows a few good spots where he can get a good rest at night. Has a stash of blankets for the cold and he gets clean clothes, food and a shower in the local shelter when needed. That is the basics taken care of more or less. Security is a touchy subject, he has reached rock bottom and is surviving so he is not afraid of that but does he feel safe at night? What about them scary irrational drug addicts he sometimes sees? Then there is the drinking, he knows that doesn’t help but it does take the edge off his other woes. Not having a relationship with anyone, no family or friends to speak of and his confidence and self-esteem are low. He has no real commitments in the day so if he wants to stroll around swinging a rope then fine, if he wants to watch 3 birds fight over a bit of bread then he has all the time in the world. He is free from others control over himself however he may not be free from the control that a substance (alcohol) has over him which sadly may be the reason for his situation.
In the end, the homeless man has some of the basic human needs but definitely not all. He has the basic needs, but what about security? Can someone feel secure when they depend on their pay check? Is their self-esteem inline if they are more worried what people think about them than what they think about themselves? They may have a great family but what if you don’t have the time to spend with them? If you are so emotionally drained from working that you can’t deal with the kids at the end of the day and constantly argue with your spouse then how good are your relationships? If you have to work for someone to earn money and then you pay for someone to look after your kids whilst you worked, is that perfection?
If you compair both persons situations against Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs you can see where the gaps are. If you dont know about Maslows Heirarchy of Needs it is basically (in my understanding) a theory of human needs with the most basic of which at the bottom up to the icing on the cake at the top. The bottom rung is basic survival, the upper is living a dream life.
The businessman and the homeless man when you see them both are far apart and they are both extreme examples of a situation but what struck me is that even through their differences are so vast and perception would initially give you the impression that the homeless man has nothing and the businessman has everything they are both lacking key elements of basic human requirements for an optimum life. Yes the business man may have more boxes ticked but at what price? He has no free time to enjoy life itself; he is serving others with his life. And the homeless man? Yes he has no mortgage and has lots of free time but, does he feel safe at night? Does he have close family who care for him? Maybe not.
What I started to see at this point is that no matter what you have in life, you can cover off the basic things quite easily. But as you travel your path at bettering your life, try not to think of everything as a tick box, a bigger house won’t solve your relationship problems or ones confidence nor will 8 cans of non-brand beer. The appearance of success is only that, an appearance. To really be successful in life you must forget about appearing successful and focus on being successful, whatever that may be for you. The more unique that is, the better for everyone.