I was challenged with this question about an hour ago.
I was driving around London Ontario running errands when I came across a man standing in the middle of an intersection with a sign reading, “Homeless, please help.”
I will occasionally give money to panhandlers. This time it didn’t cross my mind because I was too far back in the left turning lane.
But something changed all this.
The light turned green and as I was approaching the man he had his head down. He looked cold and emotionally defeated. Too embarrassed to look at the drivers passing him in the face.
And then something happened as I drove past him. He looked up at me, deep into my eyes, and humbly and sadly mouthed, “Thank You.”
I got rocked.
I don’t know why he said thank you. But I felt his pain. I felt his struggle.
Most of all, I felt his indignity.
I had to do something about it. At my core, I knew I had to do something about it.
I passed the man and pulled my vehicle into the nearby parking lot. Instead of reaching for the regular Toonie or $5 dollar bill, I wanted to give this man something more.
I wanted to give this man his dignity back.
I knew in my gut this amount was $100. It was an amount that would get him off the street for a little while (even if only for a few hours) and it was an amount that stretched my comfort zone (tbk Creative is still a small and growing agency, so I only earn a modest salary right now).
Because giving $100 would stretch my comfort zone, and give this man dignity, I wanted to do it. I wanted to capture that feeling of being a gift for someone else, even if this incident lasted only a moment.
So I went to the nearby ATM and pulled out $100. I began walking back to the intersection where the panhandler was standing and noticed something different about the situation.
There was now a London Police Services vehicle beside the man with its lights on.
I thought I knew what was going on. There’s panhandling laws so I figured the police officer was telling him to take a hike.
I was wrong. I watched the police officer write the panhandler a ticket and give it to him.
I had to take a picture.
This is not an article to cry for a civil injustice.
Watching the man get handed the ticket, I got the gravity of the homeless situation we deal with in Canada from all the different perspectives: from law makers who want to protect their citizens from unwanted solicitations, to law enforcers who are only doing their job, to citizens who don’t want to feel intimidated or obliged to give their money, to homeless people who just want to survive.
Yes, this is not an article to cry for an injustice. But this is an article to cry for a man’s dignity. More than ever, I wanted him to have that.
The man received his ticket and walked off into the nearby parking lot where my vehicle was parked. The police officer drove off but was then replaced by another London Police Services vehicle who followed him into the parking lot.
I crossed the intersection, walked up to the man. You can only imagine the thoughts going through my head, “Am I making a BIG mistake here?”
But I kept walking towards the man.
As I walked up to him, I said, “I saw you received a ticket over there. What’s your name?”
He said, “Yes. My name’s Jim.” and he turned away very indifferently and kept his head down.
I said, “How much?”
He said, “$75 dollars.”
I pulled out the $100 out of my pocket and said, “Here, use this to pay for it,” and handed it over to him.
He didn’t take the money at first. He just stared at it. And then tears around the perimeter of his eyes appeared.
I said, “Seriously, please take this.”
He said, “Really. Oh my god. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.”
And then we embraced in a strong hug.
I said to the man, “I want you to take care of yourself Jim. Be well and make good decisions.”
He promised me he would and then I turned and walked away. I looked back once and he was just standing there staring at the money in his hands, his whole body shaking like he had just won the lottery. He then began to shout hysterically, “I can’t believe this! I can’t believe this! I can’t believe this!”
I turned back around, kept walking towards my vehicle and never looked back. Tears were now streaming down my face.
As I wrote above, today I set out to be Jim’s gift.
And in the end, Jim turned out to be my gift.
There’s a lot of talk about giving being solely a selfless act. It’s often glamorized by all the givers. Today I know for sure, giving is not a selfless act. Jim turned out to be a gift to me because he gave me the opportunity to express my truer self and connect emotionally to another human being.
That’s not selfless. That’s being alive. And that was worth $100 to me.
However Jim chooses to spend the $100 is none of my business (yes he may make poor decisions with it). I didn’t do what I did to start making decisions for him in trust. I did what I did to give Jim his dignity back, if only for a little while.
If this article inspires you in any way, please go stretch your comfort zone and put a smile on someone’s face today, and tell me what difference it makes for you and them.
Is a man’s dignity and the feeling of being alive worth $100? I think so. Thank you for the gift today Jim.
(Note: The name Jim was used to replace the man’s real name to maintain his confidentiality and dignity.)
(Andrew Schiestel is the Chief of WOW! Projects at tbk Creative, a forward thinking web design & digital marketing agency with locations in Toronto & London Ontario, Canada. Andrew loves to build relationships with people looking to make their own, or other companies win. To tweet it up with Andrew, click here or email him here. If you found this article valuable, please share it with others who can benefit from the content. Thank You!)