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Vennsday | Attitudes to homelessness

February 11, 2015


The idea sketched out in today’s Venn diagram is that people’s attitudes towards homelessness and homeless people (and everything else) shade together like colours across a spectrum. I think this is a truthful simplification of the reality of human interactions.

For purposes of illustration, I have deliberately chosen to use only five sets: empathy, public good, too busy, NIMBY and bigotry. The diagram suggests not only how attitudes can overlap but how very different attitudes can lead to similar reactions but for different reasons.

A person who is preoccupied and overwhelmed with their own problems may have little patience left for the problems of others.

In times of stress anyone can act as intolerant as a stone cold bigot.

And in the same way, “Liberals” and “conservatives” can violently disagree about extending social entitlements but find themselves in complete accord about the need for harm reduction programs — or not.

People are wonderfully complex. Not only do beliefs and attitudes vary by person but what an individual believes and how they choose to act on those beliefs can vary by circumstances and change over time with new experience.

Furthermore, our behaviour can never truly be contained by any of the box labels which we all try to draw around each other. The labels are fine so long as we remember that they are for the benefit of the person doing the labeling rather than the person being labelled — and that the labels are simply markers along a person’s route through life.

What a tangled web we weave, Venn first we practice to deceive!


Venn diagrams are a powerful scientific tool for visualizing the relationships between unique sets of things.

Venns are frequently misused by other poorly informed people but I only intend to misuse them once a week, each Wednesday (or, as I shall call it: Vennsday).

My diagrams won’t always, strictly speaking, be proper Venns, owing to my still being a little unclear on the concept. More often than not they will actually be Euler diagrams, which are closely related to but less restrictive than Venns. Other times they will just be bass-ackwards, like this popular “Venn” diagram from 2011 on people who get paid to touch your junk.

From → Homeless life

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