Years ago after Peace Corps, I made a promise to never become callous when it came to beggars. I told myself, even if you don’t feel like giving something, give just a little. I did this because I felt if I always tried to decide whether the person deserved it or if my donation would have an unintended effect, I would eventually seize up and stop caring at all. Better to err on the side of being taken advantage of, I figured, rather than to close my heart and pass up everyone.
In recent years, I’ve definitely been hit or miss. I’d say I give to 60% of beggars or those looking for donations, including some college girls in Ann Arbor this past winter who I’m convinced used it to fund a roaring kegger. So what.
My mind shifted yesterday when I gave a bit to a guy on an expressway ramp and I’m recommitting myself to giving a little whenever I come across someone who is asking. I can hear all of my friends and family lining up right now to ask. :) You’re excluded, unless I find you with a sign on a city corner, which I hope I never do.
I’m doing this because at a minimum everyone deserves to be acknowledged, to know that they exist, to not be obviously ignored and walked past. We all know the feeling of doing that.
So what I’m doing is simple. If I have a dollar in my wallet, I’m going to give it. I’m going to make eye contact, say hi and hang in there. That’s it.
It’s just a dollar. Inflation has pretty much made it worthless. If you’re gainfully employed, think about how many beggars you come across in a year. I’m sure it varies, but for me I’d put my yearly giving expense at about $30 – 40 dollars. That’s not much.
When I don’t have a dollar handy, I’m going say hi and explain that I don’t have enough on me. If bothered or harassed, I’m sure I can fall back on my Peace Corps experience of just saying the same thing over and over – “I already have one, thank you” (for insistent sellers) or “Sorry (brother/sister/mother/father), there’s nothing right now” (for beggars).
This reminds me that I was voted “Most Likely To Be Talking to a Stranger” when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar. I miss those chats. I was always fascinated by the conversations that followed when the person abandoned their original intentions and we just started talking.
This post is partially inspired by the blog zenhabits.net. A common theme there is that when you’re going to make a change in life, broadcast it to foster a sense of accountability. If you haven’t checked out that blog yet, you definitely should.