Singing Loudly: Homeless Manners

Singing Loudly

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Homeless Manners

Imagine that you've just left one of your favorite bars. You've had a bowl of queso, too many chips, and a couple pitchers of beer with one of your best friends. You have gotten your fill of talking about the things that matter: girls, sports, and cheesy jokes. You walk out into the parking lot and get cut off by your car by a homeless guy. He says to you, "I'm sorry to bother you, I've got a rag in my bag that could clean your car, I missed my bus and need a few dollars to take a cab home."

Typically I don't like to give money to homeless people, because I would rather contribute money to charities that actually help them. I think that is a much better use of my money, and helps the homeless people who actually want food, assistance, or shelter. Whereas the people you give money to directly can use it for whatever use they want. I don't care if they want to drink or not, but I'd rather not fund it. I'm dumb that way sometimes.

The question is what do you say? Do you tell them you don't have any money on you, which could be a lie? Is it alright to lie in these situations? Do you just say you don't want your car wiped with a stupid rag? What about when they counter by saying that they aren't "below taking pennies"? Do you give them some pennies or hold to your claim that you don't have any money?

It upsets me when I turn down people who are homeless. Is it alright to lie to homeless people when you truly believe that lie will be more helpful in the long run? What about when you just don't want to deal with it but have no intention of donating money to charities that help homeless? Is it better to lie or to say you'd rather not give them money?

(Posted one year ago today on Singing Loudly)


You are not alone in struggling with this situation and feeling guilty for not being generous, yet angry over the apparent con this guy was trying to pull. Now, I ask you to step back and ask, how is this guy like me and how would I want to be treated?

From your bio I see you’re a playwriter, which means you need to pitch your stories to sell them. So, here’s where I see some common ground:
1. You target someone you think has money they might be willing to give to you.
2. You present a story line.
3. You wait while they decide whether or not they want to part with their money for this story. Perhaps they hesitate, so you add more to your sales pitch in hopes of swaying them. Maybe you let them know what your bottom line is for payment.

Now, how do you like to be treated? I can see that there’s no “right” answer to this question.

1. Obviously, the quick and easy answer is: you want them to buy the story and generously hand over a pleasing amount of money. Good: You got the money. Bad: There was no challenge to grow or change.
2. A quick and definite “no.” Good: You know you need to move on and tell your story to someone else and not waste any more time with this person. Bad: No money.
3. They tell you it has potential, but it needs some work. Come back again another day. Good: Sometimes the truth can force you to grow and the revised story produces more money that the first one ever would. Bad: You still have no money.
4. There’s something about the story they like, they’ll pay you something for it, but they are going to change it how they want, sometimes with your additional input, sometimes without. Good: New thoughts and ideas are shared with you. There is change. You’ve been paid. Bad: You may be put in a position of changing who you are, what your story is, and its not something you’re comfortable with. Maybe the end result wasn’t what you were really trying to accomplish.

So, given the above, here’s some possible scenarios, all of which I believe fall among the guidelines of treating others how you’d want to be treated:
1. Give the guy two bucks and ask him to wipe off your headlights so you’ll have brighter light for your trip home.
2. Tell him no thank you, wish him good luck, move into your car quickly so there’s no further wasted time.
3. Let him know that the story just doesn’t ring true, that you’re more likely to give money to panhandlers who have a believable story line or at least have the supplies to offer a service, such as a roll of clean paper towels and some kind of cleaning fluid. Maybe give him the pennies he said he’d settle for, just so you don’t feel quite so guilty.
4. Offer to call him a cab, wait for the cab and pay the cabbie what he thinks the ride will cost. Or, if you’re really feeling brave, offer to give the guy a ride home and see what other common ground you might share. If his story line had no merit, he’s probably not going to accept this last offer.

My bottom line suggestion? Trust your intuition, then treat him how you’d want to be treated if you were in his shoes. Specifically, from the story you described, I’d ask: When you’re in need of something, but full of BS, what do you want people to do?

By Anonymous PattyAnneSmith, at 12:30 PM, November 02, 2005  

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