**Photo of The Carnegie Library, back when it dressed up in the evenings.
I received the following quote in response to my latest post about giving to those in need, and the challenges that sometimes come with it. I think it’s beautiful and I wanted to share it.
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
—excerpt from A River Runs Through It
For me, the most practical solution to giving is to make an online donation. It’s a clean transaction where all parties are satisfied and the set of expectations are met on both sides. Trying to help your loved ones, when the going can get deep and murky, well…that’s another story.
Family aside, sometimes an offering is not well received or desired by the recipient. Sometimes logistics prevent it from taking place, and sometimes it seems like it’s the wrong place, the wrong person, and/or the wrong time. Even with the best of intentions, a generous act can be a total flop and end miserably for all parties. Every day, while I’m walking through DC, I see different organizations soliciting pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Hey there! So do you care about the rain forest?
Ma’am, are you willing to stand with the LGBTQ community today?
Excuse me, but are you worried about climate change and how it affects all of us?
Save the children! Hey, over here! Save the children!
Street Sense! Street Sense! Help the homeless and get your Street Sense here! Empowering the homeless one newspaper at a time! Only $2!
Even driving through the middle of nowhere last weekend, we went through an intersection dotted with firefighters holding their boots out to passing traffic. They were literally camped out with their boots out.
Even though these are all worthy and important causes, the constant barrage of solicitation can feel overwhelming. Walking past the small groups, with their smiling faces, holding clipboards and waving pens around in their enthusiasm, all while extolling the virtues of their organization, I try to skirt around them undetected. When I first moved to DC, I entertained their pitch. I learned the hard way when you follow it with a “no thank you,” they tend to double-down on you even more. I just get to the same end point quicker, and easier, if I keep walking without acknowledging them.
I don’t like it, but I don’t like the peer pressure more.
Last year a young woman caught me off guard on the sidewalk. She didn’t have a vest on (with her organization’s name) and she was wearing business attire. Without missing a beat she asked me, “What is the best piece of advice you could give someone?”
I was silent for a moment. I did not expect a question from her, let alone a philosophical one. I can’t even remember what I said, but she ran with it. She then asked me how much I spent on a gym membership. I told her I didn’t (because at that time I was benched from all activity). She quoted the average monthly membership to a gym. She used that as the marker for how inexpensive the monthly contribution to her organization was in comparison. At this point, she had pulled out a glossy folder with all of their marketing materials. Overall, it was very slick. I agreed to make a donation to the organization.
She took out her tablet and started to take my details. She asked me for my credit card information, but I wanted to give her a check instead. (Old school, I know!). She said I had to sign up with a credit card. This was how they looped you into a monthly, recurring fee. Once I said I was interested in a one-time only donation, she gently pulled the slick folder out of my hands smiling and said, “Sorry, this is for monthly memberships only. You can get information about us off our website.”
And that was that.
Humans are masterful shamers. Saying “no” to the person soliciting is no different than turning down a drink at a college party. The backlash to your ego and your standing within the group is poised to take a hit. It is human nature to want to belong and everyone else feels it themselves, but also knows it, too.
The shame goes both ways. Recently, a young woman posted on Facebook about needing to re-home a stray cat that showed up to her little house in the country. She was feeding it, but knew she could not financially take on another pet in addition to her one dog and her cat. People flooded her post with ideas and offers of help, except for the one person who shot back, “Are you kidding me? You should be keeping it! A cat is the least expensive pet you can own! What’s one more?”
I’m going to guess the hater isn’t a renter, working several jobs, and barely making ends meet like the young girl.
Even if you don’t face the solicitors on the sidewalk every day, no one is immune to the requests that come across your screens. How did we get to a place where it is the norm to ask for money for anything and everything? From your hospital bill to your pet’s vet bill, or maybe even for a trip or equipment? Yes, there are a lot of “legitimate” requests when a tragedy befalls someone, but somehow it has morphed into a free-for-all. The problem is everyone gets corralled into the same group, competing for the same resources, and it normalizes the whole thing.
An emergency is no longer an emergency.
I keep going back to “everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got.”
But are they?
Walking down the street early this morning, I passed the Carnegie Library. It’s one of my most favorite landmarks in DC. It’s a beautiful, old building, the epicenter of the surrounding gentrification that towers above it. For the last two years, its new owner, Apple, has sunk 30-million into this withering stalwart. Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive said, “I love the synergy between old and new, the juxtaposition of the historic fabric and contemporary design” (Press Release on Apple.com, May 9, 2019).
Funny, as I was admiring the grand old building on my right side, beautifully lit at dawn, I couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition between it and the man sleeping on its sidewalk to my left, all bundled up in a course, grey blanket, just like he was right out of the novel, “Animal Farm.”