Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Compassion: Too Much and Not Enough

You guys have all been having a lively discussion while I've been away! I'm never sure of the proper order of things. Do I visit y'all, then respond to your comments here? Skip a post, or post as usual, then visit y'all, then respond to your comments? But then I worry: you commented on my blog, shouldn't I do that first? But then I want to see what's up in your life. I like reading your posts.

So that was a bad apology for getting behind and I'm not sure whether to go to your blogs or respond to your comments next. If I do the wrong thing, I didn't mean to be impolite, LOL.

I'll do it all, of course, but I sometimes wonder if there's an etiquette to the order of it. In what order do you do it?

TOO MUCH COMPASSION: You know, I worry about other people. Like, when someone doesn't pay their bill, I start worrying. I start feeling sorry for them. I hate to send them late notices, because I know how it feels to be struggling with the economy.

But I realized today: I forgot to feel compassion for myself. Why do I always put myself last, until I wake up and realize that there is a LINE, and destroying myself in the process of feeling compassion for others is not good for the world at all.

I'm an only child, and I consider self-centeredness to be one of my greatest faults. It's kinda funny that my other greatest fault is worrying about other people.

So... I'm so not playing that game anymore.

NOT ENOUGH COMPASSION: I was downtown Cleveland today. YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE WHAT I SAW!!!!

A sign.

A sign saying: do not give beggars money. Several of them, actually.

Because it could be a panhandler instead of a homeless person. (Often no difference, btw.) Yes, I realize that giving food and shelter and clothes and blankets is better than giving money. But it's MY money.

And how can one charity put up signs telling me not to give to another???

Are you really telling me panhandlers have SUCH A GREAT LIFE that I shouldn't give them some compassion???

I used to give a panhandler money all the time. He was hilarious. He earned his money. He often spent it on alcohol. His choice. He got his calories, he got his life, and you know, you gave him food, too.

And, sorry, I will give beggars money if I want. The first time I gave a man money, I was a freshman in college. There was this man with a sorry story and his children, yada, yada, yada.

But any intelligent person would know that, in this case, the story was true. It was his first night begging, his first night homeless on the streets. (And I'm pretty certain his only night.) He had tears in his eyes when he asked for money, he could barely do it.  I said I didn't have it. (I think I had 23.85 in my bank account. ***Update: Remember, this was COLLEGE. I was living in a dorm on a cafeteria plan. I was giving BEER money, that's it, LOL. No giving away of "last penny," didn't mean to suggest that.***)

There was something about him, though. I just knew.

So I went back to the ATM machine and got twenty dollars out and gave it to him. I was slightly afraid to get too close because I was a new girl to a big city, but today I would've hugged him. I wish I could go back and hug him. It hurt him WAY MORE to take my twenty dollars than it did for me to give my weekend play money.

He cried, right there on the street, the first time I'd ever seen a grown man cry. And he never came back, never saw him ever again.

I can't tell you how many times I've thought of him over the years. I've written a success story for him in my mind, of course. I believe it, too.

So how would you feel, looking at a sign telling you not to give to homeless people because some of them might be panhandlers, and that you should mail your donation to XYZ Charity instead?

Incidentally, the signs are sponsored by the businesses on the street. So really, they just don't want homeless people on their sidewalk. I'm surprised they didn't put the sign: DO NOT GIVE BEGGARS MONEY; BUY A PIZZA AT LUIGI'S PIZZA INSTEAD.

21 bonus scribbles:

Edie 7/15/2008 09:13:00 PM  

You could buy a pizza and give it to the homeless. (Couldn't resist.) I wouldn't like someone telling me not to give money to anyone. I don't trust a lot of charities either. How much money actually goes to the people they're supposed to help? How much are the people on top making?

You have a good heart, Spy. But you're right, you need to put yourself first.

spyscribbler 7/15/2008 10:06:00 PM  

Edie, have you ever been to the Charity Navigator? They list almost every charity in the world, it seems, along with percentage spent on advertising, overhead, and the CEO's salary. (Non-profit pays well, LOL, if you're at the top.)

I totally thought of that pizza thing right after I published the blog, LOL!

mom2brie,  7/15/2008 10:48:00 PM  

Wow - Charity Navigator is a great site!!! Thanks for pointing it out :) Hope you are doing well, and love you!!

spyscribbler 7/15/2008 11:57:00 PM  

Mom2brie, I thought for sure you were the one to show it to me! I was thinking of calling you today. :-) Love you! Give kisses from me to the prettiest baby in the whole world!

Eric Mayer,  7/15/2008 11:58:00 PM  

I can't keep up with the Internet and commenting on the blogs I read and on comments to my own blog. I am sporadic. Sometimes I pretty much vanish for awhile. I love doing it but it can spin out of control.

My writing clients are always big corporations so at least I don't have payment problems. I'd hate that because I've been in the situation where I just didn't have any money.

Good for you being charitable. People are so afraid of being taken advantage of. I figure it's better to act with decency and compassion and maybe be played for a sucker once in a great than to be a miserable bastard.

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 12:10:00 AM  

"I figure it's better to act with decency and compassion and maybe be played for a sucker once in a great than to be a miserable bastard."

Eric, what a GREAT statement. I mean, all those people on the streets. They're going to advocate we help no one just because a few might be taking advantage of people? And, you know, those few taking advantage of people don't seem to me to be in such a great position that I can begrudge them the dollars.

I have to manage my internet addiction. I find the more I keep myself away from the internet, the more I get done. And, the more quality my time is on the internet, too. So it's win-win.

Stephen Parrish 7/16/2008 04:04:00 AM  

My kind of post. The $20 gift when you only had $23 to your name reserves you a place in Heaven. Not a bad way to spend $20, is it?

My town has its share of professional beggars, including a man who lives on my street (in a house bigger than mine) and a woman who gets picked up in a Mercedes at the end of her "shift." I therefore understand where the skeptics are coming from. But I also know there are real people out there in real trouble.

I have a soft spot for street musicians. You can't fake musical talent. I always give to street musicians, even if it's just a few coins. Always. Imagine a world without street musicians.

Bernita 7/16/2008 08:28:00 AM  

Yep. My money, my choice.

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 08:37:00 AM  

Oh! Stephen, please let me remind that this was my freshman year in college, and although I'd worked a little, I had NOTHING to spend it on. So spending my last twenty dollars was a sacrifice of beer, nothing else. So... not a sacrifice!

Street Musicians ROCK! Street Musicians in Germany are particularly good. I don't even consider street musicians beggars. They're working, working a craft I happen to like a lot.

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 08:39:00 AM  

Amen to that, Bernita!

Aimless Writer 7/16/2008 10:50:00 AM  

There's an old man in New York City. He plays sax on the street. I give to him every time. My dd says not to because he's not that good. (She's an excellent sax player) But that's not why I give. I give because of his spirit. He gets out there every day and plays from the heart. This is his way to earn his place in the world. And that's cool.
As for that sign you saw?
We need to get a sticker with a peace symbol or maybe Jesus fish (sorry I don't know the proper name for it) on it to put over the word "do not" on that sign.

Melanie Avila 7/16/2008 12:22:00 PM  

Spy, what a great post. I got pretty jaded while living in Chicago because you'd hear stories about some of them pulling in $100K per year. I tried to give food instead. And I like tipping street performers - there are some acrobatic guys on Michigan Ave that are incredible.

I just emailed a client a couple days ago asking to wrap up an outstanding project so I can bill more hours and get paid. My husband thinks I'm crazy because a different client paid me, then got busy with other things and hasn't approved the job to print. I have $2000 sitting in my account that's NOT MINE (it's for printing & shipping) and I want it gone! Does that sound crazy?

Robin 7/16/2008 12:48:00 PM  

Funny story related to this: When we lived in Center City Phila, we were going to a vegetarian restaurant that serves "fake meat", when we saw a homeless guy. (Fake meat has the texture of chicken of beef, but is made of soy.) Instead of giving him money, we brought him out a take-out dish of sweet and sour "chicken". When we passed him later that night, he lit into us.
"What's your problem, Man?", he yelled. "You really expected me to eat that shit?!"

conley730 7/16/2008 02:38:00 PM  

Hey Spy! It's not like shampoo...wash, rinse, repeat! Do it in whatever order you like LOL!

Here's one for your dairy post...dairy free ice cream!!!

http://orgjunkie.com/2008/07/vanilla-dairy-free-ice-cream.html

R.J. Keller 7/16/2008 05:26:00 PM  

That's rather dehumanizing, don't you think? Just like "Don't Feed The Ducks." How disgusting.

Good for you for doing something kind...and for giving Cleveland the bird.

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 06:19:00 PM  

Aimless, I think it's hard to judge a street musician's technique. First, they have to play loudly. Second, they have to play in all sorts of weather, and outside playing can wreak havoc on one's sound.

Besides, like you said: it's the spirit of it. I mean, imagine if street musicians weren't there?

Btw, there's an INCREDIBLE sax player by the zoo exit from the Metro in Washington DC. I was blown away.

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 06:21:00 PM  

Melanie, I hate that! That's like when you write a check and people endlessly don't cash it. My landlord does that for WEEKS. It drives me crazy, because when you're running your own business, cash flow is always fluctuating.

I'd love to see those acrobats! How cool is that?

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 06:22:00 PM  

ROFL, Robin! I wonder if he knew it was fake meat, or if he thought you gave him some weird thing, LOL.

I never touch fake meat. I'm a vegetarian most of the time, but... I mean, if I wanted to eat meat, I'd eat meat. Why would I want fake meat, LOL?

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 06:23:00 PM  

Thank you SO much, Erin! That looks like an awesome recipe! I think the gelatin is really going to make it less... icy. Dairy-free ice cream can get a little icy.

spyscribbler 7/16/2008 06:24:00 PM  

R.J., yeah. And when I thought about it, it was really about getting the homeless off THEIR sidewalks, not about encouraging people to donate where it might do more good.

And what really killed me? The Cathedral sponsored it, too.

Michelle Lauren 7/18/2008 07:53:00 AM  

Hey Spy,

Wonderful post about the state of humanity. People should give to whatever causes that touch them, as long as they show reasonable caution (i.e. not opening your purse and digging through your wallet in front of a stranger, or taking them WITH you to the ATM). No one else has a right to try to forbid you from doing it; it looks shady for another charity or group to try to curtail acts of compassion to others.

I agree with your point about the signs; I'm surprised someone hasn't put one outside saying "Do not give money to McDonald's" (although I love their food).

I feel compassion for a lot of people; yes, it can get out of control, especially when I start feeling bad for people who bring consequences on themselves (i.e. the ex. you mentioned about someone skipping out on their bill; if they got yelled at in front of everyone, I would feel a bit sorry for them despite their actions).

But as you said Spy, you have to put yourself first sometimes and focus on caring for your mental health; that's why there is a saying "give until it hurts," because if you don't maintain a balance of giving to others AND yourself, you get hurt.

BTW--Thanks for leaving a post on my blog (www.michellelaurenbooks.wordpress.com). It was a pleasant surprise!