I’m in Chicago on a business trip and as my customer and I are walking from our hotel to a local restaurant, he noticed that I handed a dollar to every person with his or her hand out. We had a nice dinner, and I made sure I had enough singles for the walk back, all told, I must have given away no more than ten dollars. He asked me, “how can you give money to every person you pass by?” I didn’t miss a beat, and asked in response, “how can you walk by so many people asking for money and not reach into your pocket once?”
Years later I heard this anecdote which reminded me of my own story above. Two men of the cloth (I don’t recall the religion) are walking in an area where there are many homeless asking for money. One man gives to everyone with his hand out, the other doesn’t give at all. The non-giver says, “I don’t give to people on the street, I only donate through the soup kitchens and institutions, as I’m afraid that someone I give money to on the street will use it for alcohol.” The giver responds, “I know that many I give to will buy alcohol or drugs, but I give to everyone with his hand out in the hope than one person will spend the money on food.”
I don’t kid myself, I know that giving away a dollar here and there probably makes me feel good more than it helps the guy on the street. On the other hand, symbolism can go a long way, and I think there’s much to be said for the act of not walking by someone in need when you can help a bit.
In an endeavor unrelated to this blog, I’ve spent some time on a board discussing Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a system of paying people for relatively small, simple transactions. I met a writer who mentioned he had spent time being homeless, and we had some discussion on that topic. I invited him to share his story with my readers and soon after I received an article than ran over 4000 words. It’s really an amazing story, one I look forward to sharing with you over the next eight weeks.
Next Week – The First Days