Inspiration: Charles Ray Walker

One of my long-time regular readers, Dav, sent me a link to this tonight. It’s the story of Charles Ray Walker, a.k.a. Bamboo Charlie, who lives in a tiny plywood shack in Los Angeles. They say he’s homeless but from what I can see, he has definitely carved out an amazing home for himself.

In 1992 while panning for gold in the L.A. river, (lost rings, chains, coins), he spotted a patch of bamboo and decided to investigate. The property owner told him he could stay if he kept the place clean. Charlie did more than that, he created a secret garden of peace, safety, and pride. He created a home.

I wonder how many people would thrive if they were simply given permission by society to exist and live. It seems that too often people who don’t live up to society’s expectations are shunned as failures. I don’t think they’re failures, I think our society’s expectations and values are screwed up and our money games are a terrible measure of true net worth.

I was really moved by Bamboo Charlie’s story. It might be because I know several people who are feeling the pains of societal pressure crushing down on them, or maybe it’s because Charlie’s words are so true, or both. In any event, I highly recommend spending a few minutes reading his story and watching the short video at the L.A. Times website.

Bamboo Charlie’s Story & Video

Thanks again Dav! Perfect timing my friend.

Photo credit Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

7 thoughts on “Inspiration: Charles Ray Walker

  1. PhilT says:

    This guy is clearly mentally ill. I don’t see the positive in glorifying his life as a bum. Ridiculous notion.

    • Michael Janzen says:

      This is the kind of ‘normal’ prejudice thinking I’m talking about when I say:

      “I wonder how many people would thrive if they were simply given permission by society to exist and live. It seems that too often people who don’t live up to society’s expectations are shunned as failures. I don’t think they’re failures, I think our society’s expectations and values are screwed up and our money games are a terrible measure of true net worth.”

      Charlie not only doesn’t cost society anything he is making all sorts of positive contributions. He’s also not consuming all sorts of new manufactured goods and energy but instead reusing what he finds. Compare this to the majority and you’ll see that the life Charlie has carved out is vastly more sustainable and helps lead humanity forward.

      Avoid casting judgement on people who are different from yourself. See them as equal and be open minded to their contributions. These things are a requirement of Democracy and our future together.

  2. BudMan says:

    Phil–
    Tap the brakes brother! Charles Walker is definitely different from you and me, however, he does not appear to be mentally ill, nor does the article seek to glamorize his lifestyle. It seemed that the article was fairly objective and provided a glimpse into the man’s life. It may not be the life you chose, or the one I lead, but so what? To each their own!
    The BudMan

  3. Bryan says:

    Saying someone is mentally ill is not the same as saying they are a failure. With proper treatment this man might just return to the life (and possibly family) that irregular brain chemistry led him to abandon.

    Living under an overpass and aligning broken toys in the dirt is more than a little quirky. I just hope the notoriety this article has given him may lead to help from mental health professionals.

  4. PhilT says:

    Michael,

    What exactly is wrong with “casting judgment” on people? I could point out that you don’t seem to be able to spell one of the two words in that phrase, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t like it if I did that. Why? What’s the problem with standing up to proclaim one’s opinions and say, “By my standards, and those of many others, this is clearly a mentally ill homeless person! He should be given resources to combat his mental disease, not told that his life in a ditch is worth something!” As a fellow human being, I should judge my brothers. That’s the only way progress is made toward anything.

    There’s also no prejudice involved in my identifying the old tramp’s mental problems. If you’d care to take the time to research the topic, you would likely find the percentage of homeless individuals dealing with mental health issues to be staggering. The guy lives in a shack in the dirt and displays remnants of discarded toddler toys next to an interstate. He doesn’t do this because it’s where he WANTS to live. He does it because he has no where else to go on account of his MENTAL ILLNESS preventing him from A. holding a steady job and, by extension; B. paying for an actual residence. I think it’s a fairly safe bet from this glimpse of his life that he’s got some serious mental issues that need addressing.

    Sure, he’s “different.” People with mental disorders are surely different. But, “difference” is not always something to be celebrated. If I suddenly start using a chainsaw to commit murder on a mass scale, I’d be different too. But, I think you’d agree that difference alone is not a reason to celebrate, or find inspiration, from such a horrific act.

    A bum on the street doesn’t help “lead humanity forward.” A bum simply shows us what happens when you’re a zebra short of a zoo.

    Michael, I think you have an overly-developed fixation with anyone who lives outside of the box or outside of our society’s informal social restrictions. What you neglect is to realize is that said restrictions are in place for a reason. I don’t want to look outside the window of my house and see bums camping out in my neighbor’s yard simply because the neighbor has a kind heart. There are sanitation issues, safety issues, property values to consider–you name it! To keep order, there must be limits to freedom.

    Oh, and I love this gem: “I wonder how many people would thrive if they were simply given permission by society to exist and live.”

    It’s called anarchy, pal. You wouldn’t like the taste of it if you lived in a place without rules.

    In short, the filthy hobo in the video is mentally ill. Stereotypes exist for a reason, my friend. Embrace them.

    • Michael Janzen says:

      “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.” – Thomas Jefferson (The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, Page 88)

      Phil,

      Stereotyping and bigotry lead to a systematic destruction of democracy and freedom. If we can’t move past hate and bigotry, we have little hope of focusing our combined attention on the real enemy, increasing centralized control in business and government. Diversity and democracy lead to real freedom, in fact this is why our nation was formed… to fight off this kind of injustice and prejudicial thinking.

      The answer to our shared problems is to agree to disagree on a certain set of issues while coming together around the things that promote democracy and the decentralization of power… a.k.a. moving power back in the hands of the people.

  5. BudMan says:

    Well, this exercise seems to have resolved nothing except the degree to which Phil seems to be an a-hole!

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