Post-Christmas Resolution, Day 190 – They Are People Too

Picked up trash along the main road near my house again today. Replaced the trash bag at the bus stop I put out a couple weeks ago. Talked with a couple of ladies at the corner when one asked about my trash bags. Also got a ‘thank you’ from a passing runner which gave me a smile. 

Cleveland night homeless

I found this discussion of street charity on the Freakonomics blog from a few years back. This is the question they posed:

You are walking down the street in New York City with $10 of disposable income in your pocket. You come to a corner with a hot dog vendor on one side and a beggar on the other. The beggar looks like he’s been drinking; the hot dog vendor looks like an upstanding citizen. How, if at all, do you distribute the $10 in your pocket, and why?

The Freakonomics folks gathered together several prominent thinkers, entrepreneurs  and authors and asked them what their thoughts were on giving money to the street people. The answers ranged, as expected, from the thoughtful to the blunt.

What caught my attention was not what was said, but what was not said.

Not one of those interviewed said anything about the actual people on the streets. They only talked about themselves. They used terms like beggar and ‘folks in need’. One went on a long diatribe about how giving to beggars only encourages more begging (without supporting evidence). One philosophized on his distaste for economics. One responded with the morally superior comment, “I give enough to anonymous people via charity”.

No personal story was given about an interaction with a homeless person. None of them gave any indication that the people on the street were human. The street people were just … academic.

Their response is certainly typical of many of us, and I won’t put forth any moral judgements against any of the respondents. I am as guilty as the next person of dehumanizing a person on the street.

But I will make a personal resolution to try to at least find out the name of a homeless person the next chance I get.

They are people too.

About Eric Winger

Our perception of time is key to how we use our time. The most fundamental way to change that perception is to give our time. This opens us up to new opportunities and ideas from which we can build to really make a difference. ... Yes, we *do* have time to make a difference!
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4 Responses to Post-Christmas Resolution, Day 190 – They Are People Too

  1. Very interesting… It’s such a tricky situation. Homeless people of course deserve our respect and understanding, just like any other human being. However, I too find it incredibly difficult to simply strike up a conversation with them or even make eye contact and smile unless I am giving them some spare change or something to eat. This hesitancy is for reasons of personal safety and also simply because I’m not quite sure how to go about bridging that gap or how they might respond. (I have had some negative experiences with this.) But it’s an important issue and one that deserves our careful consideration and active involvement.

    • Eric Winger says:

      I posted some tips from the Portland Rescue Mission awhile back about dealing with a homeless person. When I was in San Francisco in March, I gave out packaged food, or burger cards instead of money.

      Certainly, personal safety should take priority, and I wouldn’t advise anyone to do anything they consider unsafe. Some people do actually choose to live on the streets, rather than face responsibility. And there are issues of mental illness.

      But for me personally, I think that there is more that I can do to sensitize myself to their plight. Ignoring them was what I was always taught. And I now think that’s not the correct response. A better response will hopefully emerge.

  2. Yeah i read that post, it was great and certainly got me thinking. I would much rather give food too, and you’ll be happy to know that this weekend I’m going to do exactly that! Hopefully this will “sensitize” me a bit too.

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