At the end of 2013 I made the stupidest mistake of my life. I wrote an arrogant post on Facebook shunning the drug dealers, mentally ill, and homeless people on Market Street in San Francisco.
At the time, I was lashing out because I’d been attacked before and felt helpless. But regardless of my personal experiences, I generalized large sub-groups of people and showed the worst side of me in doing so. The media made me out to be a monster and zeroed in on the homeless angle. I don’t blame them, it made for a good story. And at the time I didn’t understand homelessness at all. Now, I could talk for hours about the causes of homelessness, the struggles faced by those trying to fight their way out, and all the data, which proves that 50% of the homeless were living normal functional lives just a year ago. But when I wrote my post I was arrogant and misguided on the subject.
It’s not that homelessness isn’t a problem in San Francisco and it’s not that I didn’t have every right in the world to vent my frustrations on Facebook with a group of people that was attacking me and my friends. The problem was the way I addressed the issue was insensitive, made over-reaching generalizations, and didn’t do justice to a homeless system in San Francisco, which is in desperate need of reform.
Unlucky for me, this post became viral, the media sensationalized it and painted me out to be the poster-boy for rich heartless monsters who hate the poor, and unfortunately this continued for almost a year. By all means, it was a bad situation.
But the worst part about it was that it distracted San Francisco from the necessary conversation our community needed to have on reforming our broken homeless policies. The whole city had their eye on the problem and nothing happened. Instead of focusing on ways we can improve things for the homeless, my post shifted the focus to how much of an asshole I was.
Now I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I never meant any harm to anyone, I was just venting on Facebook. But words can weapons and it was a great opportunity for me to learn about the media, politics, and most importantly, myself. As bad as everything was, the experience turned my world upside and gave me a great opportunity to grow as a person. I spent the next year re-educating myself on homelessness, social issues, and everything in between. Along the way I constantly learned new things about myself, challenged a lot of my fundamental viewpoints, and came out the other side feeling like a more complete person.
In the end, I lost a lot of friends, I lost a lot of respect, went through a hellish year, but grew immensely. Learning from your mistakes is a lifelong journey. I’m not perfect, but this year has put me on a path to become a better man. In hindsight, I’m ashamed of what happened, but happy with how I dealt with it. And in the end, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.