October 12, 2012

Giving. Or not.

My office is next door to a former motel that now serves as housing for some of the rougher members of society. While it makes for some entertaining passersby, it's also led to some awkward encounters. It's not like I work in a bad part of town, because it's not that black and white. It's a busy road, the main one in and out of town, and gets a lot of different kinds of people. The mall in town with the most expensive stores is spitting distance from my desk. If you could spit half a block.

It's happened a few times now that the less than high class folk from next door have come in asking for money for bus fare or to use the phone. Honestly, it's awkward. Normally you don't think letting someone use the phone is a big deal, but I can't do my job if someone's tying up the phone line. I'm also not comfortable if the person using the phone is discussing how much money she made panhandling this afternoon and dropping f bomb after f bomb. It's not that I have delicate ears, I used to be a bartender after all, but it just flies in the face of good manners. You need to use my phone? Keep it short, keep it sweet, and then, please, get out.

I know that seems harsh, but at least I said please. Metaphorically speaking, that is. I'm too nice to kick anyone out.

When people come in with big sob stories about how they locked their keys in their car and just need bus fare to get to their wife's work it's hard. My boss is very firm that we are a business and can't give out money for things like that. The thing about sob stories is that they aren't usually true. And, a lot of the time, generosity leads to people coming back and wanting more. It's like donating to a charity. Do it once and you're on their mailing list for the rest of your life (not that that's such a bad thing).

Before I dig myself into a hole here, I want you to know that I am a huge believer in charitable giving. I love to give my money away. Sure, I don't give all that I could or should, and I definitely struggle with it sometimes, but deep down I know that my money is not my own and we are called to give. Giving is something that has always felt so right to me and I hope it always will be. Even if it's an inside battle to give versus keep.

A man came into the office yesterday around 4:30. He handed me a note and pointed to his ears. I skimmed it and got from it that he needed $6. It's always a toonie, a loonie, six dollars. Small, seemingly insignificant amounts. It drives me nuts.

This fellow claimed he was deaf and I'm not going to dispute that. He used his deafness as an excuse to play up the fact that it took him longer to read my body language. I'm sorry, but a head shake is a head shake and whether you're deaf or not you know what a no looks like. So he asked my boss, then insisted they shake hands even as my boss was pointing towards the door.

When someone comes into my place of work and asks for money it puts me in an awkward place. Whether I want to or not, I notice his clothes, I notice that he probably came from next door, and I know I have to say no. It doesn't matter how much I want or don't want to give that person bus fare, because I'm not the boss here and when the boss says no, they'll just keep coming back, I have to respect that and trust that he knows what he's talking about. And honestly? I don't want to give them the money, anyway.

When I give it's almost always to Compassion, World Vision, or Blood: Water Mission. Things that have nothing to do with where I live. I should probably reevaluate that. I don't give to Green Peace or animal shelters because I really believe that if I'm going to give I'm going to do it for people. People first. As much as I like trees and baby pugs I think that people are more important. A tree doesn't have a soul and need to hear about Jesus. True story.

I'm also not a big fan of straight up giving. Charity type giving. "Oh, you have no food? Here's a handout." That helps nothing but feeding someone for the moment. I absolutely believe that people have a right to food and, of course, if they need food then give it to them, but that's not how problems are solved. Don't go build a well in Africa and pat yourself on the back. If you want to build a well as a service, that's fantastic and I applaud you, but make sure you involve the locals in the process and do it with a humble heart and make darn sure you teach those locals how to maintain that well and use it properly. Because handouts don't help fix the long term problems.

So what am I getting at here? Well, I'm kind of ranting about people who put me in the uncomfortable position of refusing them things because they come in and demand them, usually with lies. I'm also sharing a bit about myself because one thing I really struggle with is judging people. My friends, my husband, myself, and strangers. It's not a good thing and it's something I need to work on. I have to force myself to think of people that come in, that aren't as clean as I am, with lives that are clearly tougher than my own, in a different light. Maybe their stories are true, maybe their problems aren't lies. Maybe they actually are going to use that money for the intended purpose. It's hard, though, because, let's be honest, a lot of them aren't.

I think I need to work on softening my heart towards people in my own city with needs and be much more reluctant to pass judgment on them. It's hard, as I'm sure you know, to feel any sympathy for the person that you've see scamming people everyday for the past year asking for ferry fare, always, everyday, just a dollar or two short from what he needs so he can head over and look for work.

Just some food for thought.


  1. I used to be in your city, and not that I am needy or anything, but I have been blessed by your generosity.

    I was walking downtown once when somebody asked me for change for the bus. I honestly did not have any, but I did offer them a bus ticket I had in my wallet. They refused. I did what I could.

    1. Thanks, Larissa :)

      Yeah, when people have their signs that say they're hungry or whatever, I just give them a granola bar or fruit leather sitting in my purse. Usually they don't mind.

  2. I agree with you on the handouts thing - you want to help them but you know it's only super-short term. I'd rather give someone the handout AND point them to someone who can help them get a job. The problem is, so many people don't WANT jobs, they just want the handout. And it gets hard to determine the difference sometimes.


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