Friday, January 20, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers...or not

I'm almost finished with a book called The Kindness of Strangers, Penniless Across America, which is about a San Francisco journalist's odyssey as he hitchhikes across America without a penny. It has been giving me a chance to think about what it means to help your fellow man, especially someone who is a stranger.

The WA town I'm living in now definitely has more families living below the poverty level than my city in CA. I think about that because lately there have been several times when someone has asked me--or my husband and I--for money.

It is a slippery slope. One of the things that the book's author talks about is the distrust of people's intentions. I admit that I'm full of distrust when people ask for money. I don't know why, but it is my first instinct.

Lately, the new thing seems to be to not just come out and ask, but to have a story: the teenagers that came up to Eric and me asking for gas money because they lost their ATM card, the guys that came up to us at rest stops asking for spare change on our way to California, and the guy that came to the door today asking for $10 to buy asthma medicine for his *supposed* daughter.

There is a part of me that stands firm on not giving handouts, a part that worries about the safety issues, and then there is that other part....shame. Shame that I have fear, distrust and may be passing up the opportunity to truly help someone in need.

I will admit that when the man came to the door today, where we have a prominently affixed No Soliciting sign, it really bothered me. I guess, technically, he wasn't soliciting. He just wanted 10 bucks. Eric didn't have any. And I have purposefully taken to not carrying any cash so that I can honestly answer, "Sorry, I don't have any cash on me."

Mostly I was bothered because it felt like a line had been crossed. It is our house, our home, our refuge, our place to be where we shouldn't be made to feel like heels if we don't give someone money.

And yet, there is still that little voice that says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

It is true. When it comes to this issue, I am in conflict.


Tricia said...

Last month, when I was looking up some info on the website for the Salt Lake Rescue Mission (Homeless Shelter) I noticed a very interesting request on their page listing tips for helping the homeless:

"Pray before giving cash to a homeless person."

I love it! Why don't I ever think to give a quick prayer when someone approaches me so that I can better judge their true situation? Definitely something to try.

Like you, I always have such conflicting feelings about it. I definitely would if they came to my door! I don't think it is uncaring if your personal safety is threatened.

Kristie said...

I love the idea of saying a quick prayer in order to assess the person. Usually the appearance and the story say it all, as it did with the man who came to our door today. There were too many inconsistencies in his story to be true. It really did bother me, but what really bothers me are the persisting feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, and, yes, annoyance, that follow.

Joan said...

I had a friend who worked in SLC. She stopped and talked to a panhandler and had quite a conversation. He told her that he rotated positions throughout the day around the center block of SLC. This is all he did for a living. He made $180-200 daily, in 1992.

I think you should be scared when someone comes deep into a neighborhood to panhandle! The ones that freak me out come up to me on a bike at the store, pen me in, and ask for gas money. I have reported them to store security.

I do remember my mother's technique when we had a motel and gas station on the old 99 at Ridgefield. She told them that she would go in and make them a sandwich. She also gave them an apple or banana. Her mother used to do the same.

Like the new background, btw. :-)

Kristie said...

My great grandma in Mexico used to make extra food during the midday meal and give it to a Tahumara Indian lady and her children who would come begging at the door every day at a certain time. I always admired her for that. And Eric had told me about times when he was in college when he would buy a burger for a panhandler here and there. Sometimes I think we get approached more when we're together, which is kind of good that when they see a woman alone, they don't approach. In the book I'm reading, the author learned which cars would probably stop, and he was always surprised when a single woman did. And for his own safety, he never accepted a ride when there were 2 men in the car. Everyone has to look out for their safety first!

MOM said...

Wow...just by the comments, it shows how conflicting this predicament can be...I have nothing to add, but more conflict of feelings! Same thing when I receive 10 envelopes in the mail from different charities all asking for money...which? how much? if any?

Sally said...

I like the prayer idea, too.

Karen said...

I agree with everything that's been said. It's hard to know quite what to do. I had an experience recently at McDonald's where a woman approached me (inside, thankfully) and asked for cash. When I told her I didn't have any (which was true), she then got really pushy, suggesting we walk across the street to the bank so I could pull out some cash from the ATM. Yeah, not in a million years, but it made me extremely uncomfortable and honestly, a little angry, too. My daughter was with me, and even she commented on how strange - and a little scary - the whole experience was.

I read a book where the family wanted to give more but worried about handing out cash. Their solution was to keep granola bars and $5 fast food gift cards in their glove compartment. If they were then at a stop light and saw a need, they felt good about giving a bite to eat instead of cash.

Another thing that helps me in these situations is remembering that we pay our fast offering. True, I might not be helping that exact person on the corner, but I'm giving of what I have to help those with less.

I'm interested in reading that book, too! =)

Kristie said...

Wow, Karen, that would be uncomfortable. That is one of those instances that really crosses the line, like someone coming to our house. I think in that case I might report it to the manager of the McDonald's.