Early on a Sunday morning, I was catching up on reading the blogs I follow and came across Dr. Quack’s post dealing with not being an asshole. Don’t turn up your nose – there are wise words in his post and a good example of “assholish” behavior. Moral of the story – don’t be an asshole.
But, his post got me thinking on my own experiences of giving or being generous. I’m lucky to have been brought up with a Mom (she’s not a “mother” – she’s a Mom – with capital M) who was a generous person. She repeatedly showed us that giving, whether it was our time, our money, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on or just a smile, can brighten someone’s day. Sharing the plenty that we had (especially zucchini from the garden) was commonplace and it was “just what you do”. This mentality wasn’t learned from my Mom alone, I also learned this from my Great/Grand Aunt and Uncle who were very giving to family and community in general, even going so far as “administering to the sick” that I read about in the Bible and numerous other people. Fact is, I was surrounded by a lot of giving, generous people.
I never heard anyone ever say, “I’m going to go do this volunteer work because when I need X, then someone will help me/give that to me.” This idea of giving was just what was done out of the goodness of ones heart. Being good for goodness’ sake.
Dr. Quack wrote about the homeless, and the idea that if you give them money they just go spend it on drugs or booze. Maybe it’s true, but I’ve not been witness to panhandlers walking into a liquor store with their coffee-cup-o-change; however, I did work in Downtown Madison on State Street (yes, the street of Halloween Party Rioting fame), which has a largish population of homeless in the area.
I worked in student housing and was often at the office before 7 AM. The buildings I worked at were upscale dormitories, we had kitchens and our kitchen staff would often bring caraffes of coffee up before 7 AM to the lobby. When the temperatures started to drop in the fall, we’d get a handful of homeless wander into the lobby as soon as the doors were unlocked for business for the day and make a b-line for the coffee.
They were dirty, often in need of a shower, bedraggled with their thin gloves with cut-off fingers, but they were human. They were chilled, often wanting just to get out of the cold breeze funneling through the buildings downtown, sit in a comfortable chair and drink something warm. Upper management received complaints from residents a few times and had decided that we should kick out any homeless who showed up immediately. After the mandate was handed down, our staff tried to adhere to that rule, but one decidedly cold morning with high winds and temperatures in the negative teens, I had four of our local homeless follow me into the entryway. They quickly uttered that they wouldn’t come into the lobby, but only wanted to get out of the wind for a bit to warm up.
Most of our residents didn’t hit our lobby until at least 730 AM… The coffee arrived in our lobby just before 7 AM. You do the math.
I dropped my bags off in my office and with a mischevious grin, headed to the entryway where the four people were warming up and with a wink and a sly look told them there was hot coffee in the lobby and if they worked with me on watching the clock and leaving the lobby no later than 730, they were welcome to warm up, sit in the chairs and catch the morning news (our buildings had huge flatscreen TVs in the lobbies) and enjoy a cup of coffee. I also explained the situation I’d be put in if they went anywhere else in the building, so they had to remain in the lobby.
Their grins were priceless, all nodding in agreement with “the plan” and they all filed in after me, thanking me and heading to the coffee. I told our desk person that I knew I was breaking the rules, but it was bitterly cold and they were cold and just wanted a few moments out of the wind and to warm up… and they were human.
The group only came in about dozen times over the winter, only after they saw me go into work for the day, always offering a large grin, a quick nod and quickly casting their eyes to the floor. To me, offering them the coffee, a place to sit and 15-30 minutes of the morning news wasn’t costing my company more than a few pennies. The coffee was purchased in bulk, the TV was on anyway and the troupe stuck to the terms of our agreement.
What would it have cost me emotionally/morally to have told this group that frigid morning to leave immediately? I’d have felt awful for sticking to some arbitrary rules only put in place because a handful of residents complained about seeing a homeless person in the lobby for all of a minute as they passed through and headed to campus. I’m human, they’re human; we all deserve compassion.
I don’t always do all I can. Many times my brain is working overtime on some thought and I don’t notice someone I could help until it’s too late (like the man holding the sign that read simple “hungry” and I had two oranges and a granola bar leftover from lunch that I could have given him – yes I still think about that).
Overall, I think that more people are trying to do more good for goodness’ sake. We don’t hear about it often due to the medias need to blast stories of greed and “assholish-behavior”. Recently a friend from high school bought gas for a woman who’d gotten to the register and had forgotten her wallet. My Mom woke one morning to find a broken-down truck in her driveway and long story short – ended up lifting the man’s truck with her tractor because the jacks weren’t working.
Don’t be an asshole. Smile at people. Wave at the cars that pass you on the road. Realize we’re all human and kindness is a universal language. Don’t show kindness because it’ll get you into Heaven (if that’s what you believe), because you’ll “get” something for showing compassion. Be good for goodness’ sake.