Looking down or looking ahead?

Benns' Belief

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

How can a person get a job, find a worthwhile relationship, or take care of their health if they don’t have a roof over their head? File photo.

There’s a guy, likely early 60s, that walks by my house at least twice a day. My home office window, not far from downtown Lindsay, overlooks the street, so I can’t help but notice passersby. As we all do, I make assumptions based on first impressions.

I immediately get the sense he is economically disadvantaged. He is a heavy smoker and is frequently coughing. On many occasions, he is scratching lottery tickets as he walks, brushing off the clinging, glittery residue in the hope of a sudden payoff. A wiry man, he walks swiftly, always looking down and side to side, as if not to miss any immediate opportunity. A stray toonie, perhaps, or something he can sell to make use of in some way.

It occurred to me that, symbolically at least, he is missing seeing any big-picture opportunities, because his head is always down, looking for the most immediate gratification possible. I don’t say this with judgement. It’s difficult to think about the big picture when our immediate needs are not taken care of. If we do not feel secure, financially, or otherwise, it’s hardly easy to be open to a more abundant mindset. It’s easy to get lost in the notion of ‘what do I need right now?’

In hockey, kids are told to keep their head up when they’re controlling the puck – and for good reason. It helps one avoid a body check and it also shows the player where opportunities lie – for either an opportunity to get a goal or maybe to pass to a teammate.

Is life any different? A person with their eyes forward, ready for opportunities, might see a chance for themselves to score (or succeed) or to assist their community, (also a way to succeed.)

This is why housing first policies should be a no-brainer as social policy. How can a person get a job, find a worthwhile relationship, or take care of their health if they don’t have a roof over their head? This is also why eliminating poverty should be a no-brainer (such as through basic income) because when our immediate needs are met it is only then we can dare to dream to do more.

According to research from Princeton University in the U.S., on average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibits a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ. And we expect people in poverty to make better decisions?

My window is more than a window. It tells community stories, just as yours does, even if we have different characters and different expected endings. For the guy looking down who walks my street, I hope life presents him with a winning hand. More importantly, I hope he notices it.

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