IN A RECENT CONVERSATION with our muse Sus, we were discussing the physical and emotional aspects of interacting with people who ask you for money on the street. Out of this conversation of past experiences that included some sparks of shame and regret came the question of how to best deal with our hungry brothers and sisters on the street. Both Susan and I believe that we are blessed, and we express gratitude to our higher power for the things we have partly by being kind to one another.
kind: arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance
Have you ever felt anxious when approaching someone who you know is going to ask you for money? Did you ever give them a dollar to just go away or to think yourself a better person? What was that small amount of monetary appeasement worth to you, or better yet, to the recipient? Was the act selfish or kind? I am guilty of it all. How I treat those less fortunate is a source of constant inner conflict. Partly because, much of the time, I do not trust the money is going to purchase food. A few years ago there was a socially conscious push to take hungry street people to a meal. I understand the reasoning, however, judge me if you will, I am not taking someone who needs a bath to lunch. I also don’t like giving my restaurant leftovers away. Not because I want to eat it, but it feels disrespectful and self-aggrandizing handing someone your scraps. Once, when I was living in NYC, I was received poorly by those I was serving in a soup line. My co-volunteers explained that I was rubbing their hardship in their nose by smiling and being happy. This notion may seem ridiculous to those who have, but I have been angry with those who have when I have nothing. I want to be better not just feel better. So, what is kind? Is handing someone a dollar bill being kind? Or is it a selfish reaction to rid someone who is less appealing from your path?
Do not get me wrong, I am not telling you not to give. In fact, please let me make it obviously evident, my message is to give. I am simply thinking deeper about my intentions when I give while trying to understand the interaction from the other perspective. I have used the excuse not to give because of my judging the recipients end con to procure drugs. Can I spare some change? On a shallow level, hell, no I can’t. Everything is important because I owe. On a deeper level, I can give you everything I have because I am blessed, and nothing owns me. With a dollar, I cannot feed the hungry, provide shelter, or cure mental illness. What I can do is be respectful and extend a hand to provide a modicum of respite within the chaos. When I buy a bottle of water, I will buy two. When I see someone hungry, I will give them a granola bar. I am not solving the problem. My intent is to be kind. JOE