Saturday, November 28

growing cynical

Something has started to happen, and I hardly noticed it until one morning my dear M pointed it out to me on our way to get coffee after dropping the kids off from school. He said I was becoming conservative.

I'm worried he may be right.

We have in this beautiful city in northern Italy, just enough of everything. A duomo, a castle, a big green park. Schools, hospital, police. Supermarkets and farmers markets and even too much shopping. Buses and a train station....

We also have a complete collection of eclectics that every city needs. Musicians, politicians, artisans, hippys, punks, drunks, preps, yuppies, priests. The very rich and the very poor.

I've never lived in a city before. A real city where I walked or took the bus everyday. A city where I interact with all these different people every day. And I love it.

My concern is that there are a the handful of people that ask me for money. Every day. More than ask. They harass me. They jump into my conversations with friends, they wait for me outside of the bar, they sidle up to me at the market and whine and mumble in my ear. Tell me stories about how they just arrived last night and they can't find the friend they're looking for. They need money for a ticket. For food. They plead their case.

M noticed that I'm no longer listening. Even shooting a dirty look or two.

This hard truth makes me a bit sick. I don't like being preyed on. I know that if I smile, show a bit of kindness, or sometimes even just recognize their exhistence, they will follow me for a block.

I'm not happy with this development. This is not how I believe people should act. Problem is I only know what I don't like and I'm having a hard time coming up with an alternative I do like. Maybe I need an urban society mentor.

Is there a class out there on how to be a compassionate urban citizen?

Because there should be more than these two choices. There has to be something between feeding a bad system and ignoring it.


  1. In my many years of multi city existence, i havent found an 'in-between' way. And i have chosen to ignore the people that come to me.

    For sometime, it only heightened a feeling of 'guilt'.

    And then, i sought to go after specific people / opportunities to help. And i move on !

    The trouble with such people who ask me for money ( citing the exact reasons like what you write..),is i can never be sure. I have given money in the past, only to find that it was just a ploy...And yes, felt 'preyed on'.

    The more i read about the other parts of the world, the more we seem similar !

  2. Hi Christine,

    I typically do not give money to folks when I'm out and about. I do not like anyone invading my personal space (without an invitation). I give money to organizations which I believe are comitted to helping those who genuinely need help.

    I remember years ago standing at a downtown bus stop in Chicago and a rather loud man began shouting. I ignored him because I knew he wasn't talking to me but what he said and the decible level he spoke at intimidated many enough to give him money, in an attempt to quiet him down.

    Finally he walked over to me, expecting that I too would bribe him for some solace while I waited for my bus. Initially, I just shook my head which only seemed to re-ignite his shouting but now he was standing in front of me. I looked him in the eyes with a look that said, "Get the fuck away from me" and I shouted "NO!"

    I don't feel guilty about all the unfortunate people out on the street; I can't change the circumstances of their life. I understand that they don't seek a life change; they just want some money.

    The problem for me is that money won't change their circumstance; at least I don't believe it will.

    I don't have an answer for your delimma Christine. If there is a local organization, perhaps you can donate food, money or time to help those in need.

    I do believe that if I do something because someone made me feel guilty, I will at some point hate what I've done to appease the guilty feelings. When I do something, I do it from choice. It is something I want to do, something I feel passionate about and comitted to. That's something I can sustain. I can never sustain well-intentioned behavior that is guilt-based.

    How's that for a simple answer?


  3. I found there was never a shortage of food drives and organizations to give to in Manila.
    As an American abroad many people see you and see dollar signs. You will pay more at the market or for a taxi. It is automatically assumed you are rich.
    You cannot help everyone no matter where you are. Help who you can, when you can, and pray everyone.

  4. I know how you feel!
    But only way is to ignore.
    There are plenty of charity organizations one can support and the money goes where it should go.
    The rule is 'never support beggers' otherwise they never stop begging.

    Most of the beggers do the work for somebody else. Or trying to get money for drugs etc.

    Think (with your brains) don't feel (with your 'heart').
    That helps when next time in a difficult situation.
    I've met beggers here in Cairo, in India, in Helsinki (Romanians) etc.
    You couldn't support them all anyway.

    Like U writes
    "I don't feel guilty about all the unfortunate people out on the street; I can't change the circumstances of their life. I understand that they don't seek a life change; they just want some money."
    That's the way to think about it!
    Be good to yourself! :)

  5. I live in a small college town and we don't have the same situation you have. I'm really don't have any suggestions.

  6. I don't give beggars money because I know that it is pointless and even harmful to do so. I've done some work with homeless people and have learned that much. But in my previous life, I wasn't faced with this everyday. I went out and found ways to "help" and then went back to my own little world. I guess I'm just dealing with thinking about this everyday and not just when it's convenient to my life.

    I have this urge to talk to these guys and ask them why they're spending their time asking for money. Many of them speak perfect English. They're apparently healthy... What happened their lives to leave them with no further aspirations other than pestering the crap out of working people?

    But how presumptuous of me. How dare I. This world is such a vast place with enumerable experiences...

  7. I feel exactly the same way as you, here in New York. There is no answer. It is a failure of society that people roam the streets asking for money, but I'm not going to be able to personally solve this problem.

  8. We have them on the left turn lanes from all the shopping areas in one town near us. The homeless folks make it a business almost. I can not mask my annoyance with them.

    Some of these folks are mentally ill and need help for sure. Others... I am not so sure that it is not a choice and those seem to be the ones I encounter more often.

    Classes or Sun Glasses?

  9. Yo, U--this couldn't be further from the truth: "I understand that they don't seek a life change; they just want some money." That kind of blanket statement about the homeless only furthers destructive stereotypes and dehumanizes. Surely we have enough of that in this world?

    Christine, I've worked with homeless folks for most of my non-profit career and have found myself in moments of annoyance and anger. It's inevitable if you work in the field or are pounced upon daily.

    I give money when my gut tells me to do so (which is about 1 out of every 100 times), donate directly to service organizations and volunteer when I can at local homeless service agencies. I live across the street from a park that houses dozens of homeless folks, but interestingly enough--they don't harass me for money. I think they leave the locals alone.

    But I do get hit up constantly by folks in other areas, as Los Angeles County is considered the "homeless capital of the USA." I usually just look at them directly and say, "Thanks, but no. I can't help." One of my old board members would hand out cards with information on local homeless service agencies and would say, "I can't help you, but these folks can."

  10. Go Consciously Frugal! Smart girl.

    All I can say is: Please don't. Don't give in to the cynicism. I used to get very upset when I'd be out in the world and people would assume I was rich because I'm American. And then I realized that basically, I am. I give money and time as much as possible. Don't give in. Keep a soft heart. You can do it. We need you.


...and you may ask yourself, did I get here?