Have you ever hesitated when you see someone begging for money at the traffic light, the train platform, or the street corner? Have you ever thought you would like to help them but then worried they might use the few dollars to buy drugs or alcohol? Until very recently, I did just this.
But not long ago I had a realization as I waited for the light to turn green and a young man approached with a cardboard sign that read: “Homeless and hungry, please help. God bless.” This time, something caused me to reach into my purse, get a dollar or two out, hand it to the young man — who humbly thanked me — and, as I drove away, proceed to cry.
What changed that day?
I am not sure why, but that day I no longer felt it was my responsibility to decide whether this person deserved my money. You see, I realized this young man was somebody’s son. For the first time, I thought there might be someone out there who sees that young man just like I see my little boy. And the circumstances of life that have caused him to be walking the streets asking for money do not take away the fact that he is somebody’s little boy.
He is a human being just like me and just like my own children. He might have made mistakes or might have fallen into bad times. He might be responsible for his situation or he might not. He might have a drug or alcohol problem or he might be clean and sober. He might struggle with mental illness or he might be as mentally and physically healthy as can be.
The truth of the matter is, I know nothing about him, and he is having a hard time where I am not. And I can help. And I would want someone to help my little boy or my little girl if they found themselves in a situation like his.
As I drove away that day with tears rolling down my cheeks, I said to myself over and over again as if talking to that young man: “You matter. You matter. You MATTER.” And isn’t that the truth? It is not up to us to protect or parent those who are struggling and who are asking for our help. It is not up to us to take away their dignity by deciding for them whether they get to use our charity for good or whether they get to make a bad choice with it.
But what is actually up to me? To show my children how to be compassionate.
To model for them giving to others who have less. To guide them as they become people who care about their fellow human beings regardless of their circumstances. And to help end the cycle of paternalistic behavior that seems to be ingrained in our society, where we think we know what is best for those who have less and need some help.
From now on, if I have some cash on me when I come across a person asking for it, I will give them a buck or two. No questions asked. Just a moment of acknowledging someone else’s humanity, dignity, and right to know that they MATTER. Will you think about this and consider doing it, too?