Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I don't pretend to know the solution to the homeless problem. Where I live and, even more so, where I work, I encounter them with some regularity, and typically I address the situation by not having any change on my person as I'm walking, so if I get a panhandler soliciting any "spare change" I can reply honestly that I don't have any change. Consider that a chickenshit technicality if you wish.

I'm not saying that I've never given such a person some coins if I happened to have some in my pocket, however. I am fully aware that doing so is not really doing anything more than enabling their pitiful circumstances and it's rewarding the wrong behavior, but there are moments when it's not easy being the complete asshole it takes to have no empathy for someone who probably slept on a sidewalk the night before, especially when I have those coins jingling in my pocket.

But I'll tell you what makes that easy.

This past weekend my wife and I stopped at a nearby drugstore. Hovering outside was a man whom we had t pass as we walked from the car to the front door. My wife ignored his plea for spare change when we came out, but I caught his eye and felt compelled to offer a non-committal, "We'll see." I knew at that moment that I was likely blowing him off, but if I happened to buy something I might consider giving him the bits of a dollar left over.

I didn't buy anything inside, so I didn't get any change.

On our way out my wife starting taking the long way around to get back to the car, clearly to avoid the man, and I followed. The man, of course, saw us and said, "Helll-oooooo," in a snotty tone that suggested I'd promised him something and I was squirming out of an obligation. I replied, "I don't have any change"—because I didn't—and he exhaled exasperatedly. After I got in the car I finished that sentence: "…and with that attitude I wouldn't give you any even if I did."

(I didn't feel like bothering to be more confrontational. Not worth the trouble that undoubtedly would have followed.)

I'm not saying it isn't humiliating to have to resort to begging outside a drugstore or anywhere one might do that, and assuming that he wasn't faking it (I know there are those who do that) I can appreciate how frustrating it must be to get the dismissive reactions that must be prevalent. But when someone actually treats you like a human being and acknowledges you, that is not putting any sort of onus on that person. And being an even bigger asshole is only ensuring that you won't be treated like a human in the future.

I've come across panhandlers who clearly seemed to be in far more dire circumstances than this idiot, and in instances where that person was gracious and thanked me even when I didn't give him anything, I have made a mental note that if I ever see that individual again that he's got the sort of attitude worth rewarding. On the off-chance that I have change in my pocket at the time.

And for this idiot? Oh, a mental note was made, but not one he would like. He won't be forgotten. He'll be ignored, but not forgotten.


That won't solve the problem. Giving them something (rarely) or not giving them something (most of the time) hasn't stopped there from being people begging.

Probably nothing I ever do as an individual will make that happen. That's not shirking any level of responsibility, but acknowledging the role I ultimately play.

And it keeps me very motivated to keep my job.

1 comment:

  1. Darn, you missed a good opportunity to punch him in the nose. People like that deserve a beating, I think. I'll help a beggar who really needs help, but people who just want a handout, and especially people with a bad attitude who just want a handout, really deserve a beating. They only learn from force.


So, what do you think?