I had never heard of TED talks before this class and after exploring the website, I think they’re great–their central concept of “ideas worth spreading” ties together inspirational speakers from so many different backgrounds and disciplines to voice their opinions in brief video segments. After watching a few of these videos, I decide to write this week’s blog about Becky Blanton’s talk, “The Year I was Homeless”.

Becky Blanton is a notable writer, photographer and former journalist who decided to pack up all her belongings to live in a van and travel after her father died. She thought it would be fun to go on an “extended camping trip” but failed to realize 3 critical things she wished she had known beforehand: (1) that society equates living in a permanent structure, even a shack, with having value, (2) that the negative perceptions of other people can quickly impact our reality if we let it, and (3) homelessness is an attitude, not a lifestyle. What started as an adventure soon turned into a nightmare. Blanton explained that the summer was unbearably hot–even on the coolest nights it rarely got below 80 degrees, food would rot or melt in the ice chest, and some days she was too sick to get out of bed and was forced to use a bucket for a bathroom. Winter proved to be even worse with temperatures remaining below freezing, and Blanton drifted into a deep depression. She was amazed at how quickly her life had transformed from “talented newspaper editor to homeless woman” and eventually decided to seek refuge at a homeless shelter. Surprising, numerous volunteers at the shelter, as well as other homeless people, were quickly able to tell that she wasn’t really homeless, claiming Blanton “still had hope…and a job” (she began her travels as a freelance writer, but was later let go). She turned her life around when she re-read an essay she had written about her father before he died, and a year later was living in her own apartment in Tennessee, writing, and winning awards.

The take home message of her talk was that people are often stigmatized and criticized for living in their cars, and that people are not defined by where the live, but by the hope that drives them. I found her talk incredibly inspiring, and it’s made me much more aware of how our society judges people. I personally believe that those people who do continue to work part-/full-time and are forced to live in their cars deserve more respect, if anything. They must be extremely motivated and hopeful to not crumble under such trying circumstances that nearly cost Blanton her life.

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5 responses »

  1. Tomas Smaliorius says:

    Unfortunately, society has created these social norms (like having a house) for people, and if you don’t fit within those boundaries, you are considered an outsider by the rest of the society. It is an unfair representation of who that person really is ,but it seems that we are the ones to blame ourselves for creating such a rigid structure within our society. Cultural attitudes towards race, and sex have changed over time, but yet they are far from where they ought to be, with racism and sexism still prevalent in United States. But the mere fact that the people’s attitudes have seen a shift gives “hope” for the rest of us that one day, even the homeless can be perceived without the negative attitude that many regard them with currently.

  2. Cheryl says:

    It’s unfair how society is so quick to judge homeless people, when in fact it might be the society itself that makes the homeless problem become worse. The attitudes the our society has towards these people have probably stripped them off any last string of hopes and made them believe that they are not worth it. It’s much easier to place the blame on the homeless for their situation, but I think we should take a step back and look at what the actual cause might be in a much bigger social context

  3. Lindsay S. says:

    What a fascinating story. That’s really telling of Blanton’s character that she chose to leave the comforts of a home and societal norms to travel the country and live in a van. I would admire anyone for taking such a risk like that and experiencing something completely different that has such a stigma attached to it. It is scary in a way how much societal norms influence all of our day-to-day lives, but they are mostly so embedded in our minds that we cannot help it. Hearing a story like Blanton’s reminds us though that we shouldn’t always place so much value on societal norms but rather consider the people themselves because that’s what really matters.

  4. Zach says:

    Talks like this are turkey interesting. I couldn’t imagine living in a van for an entire year. I don’t think any of us have been close to being homeless in our loves, and thus we could never really understand what it would be like. Listening to someone who had to go through it is sobering. It makes you think about the preconceived notions we probably all have.

  5. Claire McCardell says:

    I completely agree with you guys, it’s totally unfair to judge people based on their material possessions, but it’s something we all probably subconsciously do everyday. Watching this TED talk really made me think about why we have these preconceived stigmas about the poor/homeless. While, yes, there are a fair number of people who are this way due to drugs/laziness/etc., I think the majority are hardworking people who have been unable to catch a break. The fact that they continue to try to find work and remain hopeful given their extreme living conditions should be reason for more respect, not less.

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