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Time perspectives and the condition of homelessness

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo makes the case that a fundamental difference in people, individually and between cultures, is our orientation to time.

Life is full of temptations, Zimbardo tells us, and how we ‘handle’ temptation is a basic element relating to how we approach life. And the way we deal with matters in our life is conditioned on our perception of time.

Indeed, studies show that children who resist temptation and delay gratification grow up to be happier and more-successful people. Whereas those who impulsively satisfy their immediate desires, or people who re-live the past (because of glories or guilt they ruminate about) are less happy.

Zimbardo sets out six basic Time Perspectives:

    • Past - Focus on Positives
    • Past - Focus on Negatives
    • Present - Hedonism
    • Present - Fatalism
    • Future - Life-Goal Oriented
    • Future - Transcendental [thinking of life after death]

It is clear from how Zimbardo presents his case, that the majority of homeless people are Present oriented.

Succumbing to addictions and living for immediate pleasures is what the majority of the homeless population does. Indeed, this large segment of the homeless population does next-to-no planning, using up what money they receive very quickly. As is known within Homeless World Sacramento, a great many addicts receive disability checks [aka by many: “happy checks”], the funds from which buy fun and substances. The money, ostensibly given for people to ‘live on,’ gets used up by mid-month. Others within this group are addicted to gambling. Again, the money disappears quickly, and the addict returns to shelters or camping and dependence on charities and the county’s homeless services.
Optimal Temporal Mix

PAST gives you ROOTS -- to be connected
   to your identity and family. You are grounded.
FUTURE gives you WINGS -- to soar to new
   destinations and challenges.
PRESENT gives you ENERGY -- to explore
   people, places, self and sensuality.

The Union Gospel Mission’s approach to saving the vast majority (solo adult males) within this prime subgroup makes sense, psychologically. The effort is to change a lifestyle of immediate gratification to one of transcendental planning -- to move someone in a Present - Hedonistic orientation toward thinking of the Future and living for it. This serves to make a man’s future infinitely better [changing a future in Hell to one in Heaven], and gives his life meaning [making his relationships with others and the world, generally, positive, productive and mature].

The mission has many examples it can provide of lives that have been turned around 180°. But, of course, getting poor, suffering people to give up their addictions is extremely difficult and often the mission effort does not succeed.

While, generally, becoming more Future oriented is the optimal ‘way to be,’ Zimbardo instructs that having a mentally healthy “temporal mix” is what’s best. Someone whose eyes are wholly on the future is ungrounded, ‘not there for others’ and, damn it, never has any fun.

Speaking of fun, this first video is an easy viewing experience with Zimbardo telling us about time perception with helpful animation.

This second viddy is a lecture by Zimbardo that includes the words from the animation above. It lasts about 40 minutes.


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