People know me at the homeless shelter. Few know my name, but they smile when I come in. We shoot the breeze. Sometimes they get mad at me for following the rules and not checking mail after 4:00 or not being able to help them with what they need, but that's rare. One time a guy asked for the monthly schedule of programs and I didn't know where it was, so I told him that. He got a little angry, but then later he heard me tell someone else that I was a volunteer and he came up and apologized that he'd gotten mad.
Last week, a guy that I sometimes chat with came up and asked me why I kept coming. He's smiling and inquisitive and asked some great questions. I told him that I'm there to learn, that I want to be able to identify with people who are different than me. I said that the poor, middle class and rich keep to their own circles and we need to mix up those circles in order to be aware of the problems of the world and learn what we can do about those problems. I told him it made me sad to go into schools on the East side and see only black and hispanic kids.
We talked about the main problems of the homeless. He told me the main problem was drug addiction. Another guy came up and told us that 90% of the people on the streets are there because they want to be, and he was one of them. He was proud of that. The first guy told me that he had kids and an ex-wife and was just there at the shelter temporarily because of a bad decision.
I love that this guy came up to me and started asking questions. I think we can make progress - probably only to a certain extent, but still some kind of progress - by being curious about the lives of others and building relationships with people who are different from us.
I don't volunteer a lot of information except in response to questions. Too many of us don't step out of ourselves for long enough to ask the questions of others that show we're interested. We'll talk about ourselves, but we won't learn what we can from those who are different around us. Or maybe, to give us some credit, we're afraid of being too curious. I can tell you though, that I'm glad for guys like this who ask questions.