I've been working with the homeless nearly every day for twenty years. After a while, after so many stories, and tragedies and heartaches and disappointments, you get worn out. You let the few people who are taking advantage of things get you down. And emotionally you become scarred, because the more that you take into your heart, the more pain you are experiencing. And that pain affects you-- not as much as the person who had the experience, but all the different people gives you a little bit of their pain, which eases their pain and increases your burden. We can become overwhelmed and blame those who have pain. I know that for many I seem more callused than I used to be.
But a couple things keeps my compassion alive. First of all, remembering that the homeless only sometimes cause their own pain. I think, if this person were doing this (drinking a beer, having sex with their girlfriend, sleeping on their bed) in an apartment, would they be blamed or harassed? And how would I feel if I didn't know when someone would attack or command me to move, anytime day or night? What kind of stress would I be under? And I remember that the main problem of the homeless isn't their personal "issues" but the oppression they are under.
Compassion, I remember, is a choice. A choice I can make everyday. Some days I'm better at compassion than others. Some days I want to ignore my compassionate impulses and just get some rest. But I realize that compassion-- even compassion that overwhelms me-- makes me a better person. I want to be the compassionate person, and that requires discipline.