Monday, December 16, 2013
I used to give fairly freely, when I could afford to, to street people, buskers, Salvation Army and so on. I carried spare change for that purpose.
Then I met Sange Sargent. Sange was an electrical engineer with a very well-paying and satisfying job. He volunteered at the museum where I worked, taught workshops, helped with wiring. He was an attractive young man. But around Christmas time, he grew a scruffy beard, let his hair get long and messy, took vacation time from work, wore battered old clothes and stood out in the old playing his harmonica on a street corner. "I make more money doing that than working," he said. "During the Holidays, people are eager to give."
Maybe I was misguided, but this made me angry. It seemed to me to be wrong, unkind, dishonest and deceitful. People thought they were helping him. And other people who really needed help might not be getting as much. I don't know about other people, but when the money I've put aside for helping is gone, I walk by the next petitioners I encounter without helping.
I now not only liked Sange less, I also mistrusted other street people. Especially when the same women told me the same lie day after day. I know it was a lie, because she said she'd run out of gas on her way to pick up her children at school and nothing like that had ever happened to her before. Only it happened every day! She was so stupid or stoned that she didn't recognize that she telling the same lie to the same person (me) every day.
And the guy who begs at the corner of Moross and Harper has a sign that says "homeless and hungry, please help." But he lives with his mother near us and she feeds him well.
Down in the city center, "homeless" men charge to let you park on the street at meters--you have to pay them an extra $5 so they will watch your car and protect it. If you refuse, there will be damage to the car. And so many people approach you, get in your face and insist on having your money and telling you how much they want and are so strident about it that it becomes frightening to walk down the street.
I've become less generous after these experiences and I don't like the way it makes me feel. I'd like to give to help people who really need it or to do something valuable for the community. I want to choose how much I can afford to give and when, and not be importuned falsely.