Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Self Test

I was out walking the other day, and I encountered a young woman panhandling. I'd seen her before, she's popped up in various places along my route to and from work (and nearby destinations) over the past five years, give or take. I've given her food and/or money on prior occasions, and taken the time to talk to her about once a year.

I'm never sure if she recognizes me from one encounter to the next, given the time that elapses between them, but she's always quick to tell me about the travails of her husband, a disabled veteran who received am other-than-honorable discharge, and her two sons, even telling me that one's birthday was coming up. I know that she and her family have lived in different parts of the country before returning to the Seattle area, and I've listened to her frustrations with the Veterans' Administration.

This all seems to come as a surprise to coworkers when I mention to them. Either the idea that one would actually take the time to talk to a panhandler strikes them as unwise or unsafe, or they have a story about someone begging on the street who turns out to drive a nice car, or is otherwise a fraud. To be sure, I understand these attitudes. I've dealt with panhandlers who became aggressive when not given what they asked for, and I've caught a few who were running scams. But these experiences haven't prompted me to keep my distance from the down-and-out population in general. And sometimes, I wonder why.

I'm not a generous person. Let's get that out of the way up-front. I don't give until it hurts. And I tend to do things for other people with a definite eye towards what I'm getting out of them. Giving to panhandlers who seem to really need it helps me to understand that, to borrow a metaphor from Seth Godin, I'm not drowning. My life may not be perfect, but I have things well enough in hand that I can afford to give something to this person who needs it. I have no illusions that I'm helping them with the small amounts of money that I'm handing over. At least not anywhere near as much as I'm helping my own piece of mind.

So I wonder - Do I take the time to interact with the people I see on the street, and spend the mental energy to be concerned with them, because of my own turmoil? Where I more at ease with myself, with less to prove, would I be as aloof as the people I've worked with?

No comments: