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Berkeley: how the homeless have altered my views (#8).

My stay in Berkeley is quickly coming to an end. I went to the school gym for presumably the last time tonight. En route to the Recreational Sports Facility, I passed by the innumerable homeless people on the sidewalk for the Nth time. My dad had remarked yesterday that Berkeley possessed more unsheltered folks than he had ever seen. I concur – seeing them on the streets for these past two years has taught me that, while it is noble to uphold ideals, it is also necessary to acknowledge the harsh truth of reality. It is hard to uphold your Utopian views.

I entered Berkeley on the left side of the political spectrum. Given the school, city, and county’s reputation, I expected my beliefs to be constantly reinforced by liberal ideologies. Instead, I have now graduated and have become skeptical and hesitant to defend my previous views.

Before the Bay Area, my life in Orange and LA County involved carrying loose change and dollar bills. Upon seeing beggars on street corners, traffic intersections, and freeway exits, I rolled down my car window and gave them a share of my labor. This had gone on since the inception of my driving career. I hoped that, with some assistance, the hopeless people were actively bettering their lives.

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But the homeless people in Berkeley changed this.

I soon found that my dollar bills and quarters stood alone amidst a few pennies in the beggars’ cups and bowls. There were too many of them to count, and far too little money amongst the pedestrians of the city. I also found the same homeless folks loitering around, some high or drunk off their minds, some noticeably sedentary and nonchalant, others begging with absolutely zero self-respect. I became jaded.

It’s hard to get all these guys off the streets. It’s hard to get them to “better” their lives. I’ve found many of them to be quite apathetic with their situations, others rather content. I’ve discovered a few to be American veterans suffering post traumatic stress disorder, abandoned by Uncle Sam some time or another. I’ve heard that some had been unfortunately struck with schizophrenia or other mental disorders. It’s hard to change these circumstances. Some were even there by choice.

Correlating these observations to the overall Berkeley scheme of things brings me to Sproul Plaza and the thousands of campus clubs and organizations. This one here is dedicated to fighting cancer. That one to AIDs. This one to poverty. That one to women empowerment. This one to improving Palestinian recognition. That one to ending the Gaza conflict. This one to aiding the latest natural disaster relief fund. That one to you-name-it.

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There are so many wrongs in this world that need to be righted. All those organizations on campus are inherently great causes. They really are. But each organization’s goal is far reaching. Each mission, should it be reached, requires full support from an overwhelming majority of the population. Multiply that by the thousands across campus. By hundreds of thousands across the nation. And by millions across the world.  Weigh in the resources required to achieve the goals of the cause. And the mental capacity required of all participants. And the time commitment. And the incentives, or lack thereof. The culmination of that results in a very, very difficult ideal to uphold.

When I shared my moral dilemma with an influential individual, wise words were dispensed to me. Among many honest things I was told was, “Because it is so difficult for the idealist to achieve his goals, you should instead set a good example to your friends, family, and communities.”

I still believe in the ideals of equal opportunity for all, improving the lives of the less fortunate, bridging the gap between mega wealthy tycoons and the overwhelmingly poor, providing adequate care to all, and helping each other out as fellow citizens of the human race. But I also acknowledge how reality bursts many bubbles of such a Utopian society.

There you have it. Something I did not expect to learn from my time in Berkeley.

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