Tuesday, February 2, 2010
I've had this on my mind a lot lately. Some time ago, I read this book by a writer named Jen Lancaster called Such a Pretty Fat in which she details her struggle with losing weight, not losing weight and getting healthy despite not losing weight. It's a good lesson - skinny does not equal healthy. But she ended the book with a story about a confrontation she had on the street with a homeless junkie who'd been buttering her up to try and get money. In short, Lancaster shits all over the homeless person and then uses that anecdote to express the liberty and achievement of her newfound unskinny fitness.
Then a couple of days ago, I read about this Paul Shirley fellow who writes this of Haiti:
I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.
These are just two examples of a trend I've noticed where somehow flouting perceived political correctness equals being all mavericky braveness. But it's not courageous to shit all over someone who has nothing. It's just being a bully. And if I could channel Seth Bullock in all his clenchy awesomeness, if there's anything I can't fucking stand it's a bully.
A few weeks ago, I went to Subway to have a diet coke and a cookie and write a little. As I stood in line to pay, a homeless man wandered past asking for someone to buy him a sandwich. Since I had some extra cash (I almost never have cash), when I got my change I gave him five dollars. He said "thanks" without looking at the bill. I was filling my cup up with the sweet, sweet diet coke when he came over and said "I'm going over to McDonalds instead because I can get..." and he proceeded to explain how he could buy more with his five dollars at McDonalds than he could at Subway. Now, I have this policy: if I give you money, I gave you money It's your money. It's no longer my place to tell you how to spend it (this policy does not apply to my child). So, I just kind of gave him a "that's OK." And then he looked me right in the eye, and it felt like all the guile and self-defense went out of him and he said, "Things have been hard for me lately." I touched his arm and said "I bet they have." And then he said, "I got raped last night in the shelter." And, here's where I get to feel super proud of myself, I said, "I'm sorry but I have to do some work."
So he just nodded, gave me a "god bless you" and went away.
Now, you guys, this isn't my first time at the rodeo. I know he wasn't taking that five dollars to McDonalds and I couldn't possibly care less about that. But I also know that he wasn't giving me some story to try and convince me to give him more money. We had a moment and then I got scared, accessed urban self defense mode and retreated. But before I did, I got a glimmer of how crushingly lonely that man's life must be. How totally isolated and afraid he must feel all the time. And I wish I could go back in time and not be so quick to get away from his sad story.
And I feel so grateful for all the people in my life that lighten my load.
Look, here's what I'm trying to say: if you think that the only thing that separates us folks who enjoy home and hearth from the homeless is that we made good decisions and they didn't, then you're nuts. And if you think the only thing that separates us as a nation from a place like Haiti is what? Protestant work ethic? Yankee know how? Sticktutiveness? Then you're delusional to the point of wacakadoodle.
Pity is free. Charity is cheap. And if you think you're a tough guy because you don't mind acting like an asshole to a person (or a country) that has nothing then, not to beat this horse too much, you're a bully which is a thing I cannot fucking stand.
A brave person would have let that man tell his story. I might not have been brave, but at least I wasn't a fucking bully.