Today's post is not so much about the etiquette, but it is. At least, I think so. Just not the way we think it is. I don't know. Read on and see.
I've been told that if someone is a "nice person" and treats a waiter badly, they aren't a nice person. I'm inclined to agree. When we treat others with courtesy, it's because of how we think about others. If we think that all people deserve basic courtesy and respect, we strive to treat everyone that way. Our partner, our children, our co-workers, and the retail staff we deal with. It's not about how we appear to others, or even really about the sorts of people we want to be. How we treat others is predicated on what we think the basic rights of other people are.
I would tell you that I believe that all people are worthy of dignity and respect, of courtesy. All people should be acknowledged and treated with kindness.
So, I was thinking one day, and I realized: I wouldn't dream of ignoring Mr. Spit when he tried to get my attention. I wouldn't ignore a co-worker when they looked up and spoke to me. I wouldn't shoot a customer a dirty glare for asking me a question.
The question, there's the rub. When the question is "Spare some change, lady?" or "Got $0.50 so that I can buy a coffee?" Or, well, you get the point.
So, if I wouldn't ignore Mr. Spit or a co-worker, or a customer, and if I believe that all people are entitled to kindness and courtesy, why I am ignoring a panhandler?
Oh, I can hear the voices. But "Mrs. Spit, they are going to use the money for booze or drugs or cigarettes". Maybe. Possibly. Probably. I don't know.
But, that's not the real point. It is likely de-humanizing enough to stand on a street corner and ask people for money. I can't imagine how it must tear a person down when no one will look at you.
It's awkward to look a panhandler in the face. After all, in Western society, the way to avoid conversations is to avoid eye contact. Looking someone in the eyes is an intimate sort of thing. And really, do we want to be that, well, involved, with someone who has a negotiable relationship with hygiene, and a non-negotiable relationship with illicit substances? And what about mental illness? Some of those people are dangerous. They must be. I see them talking to themselves, I see them yelling to themselves. Paranoia, delusions.
I don't give money to panhandlers. Not, actually, because they will spend their money on booze or drugs or cigarettes. I have, in the past, spent money on all 3. I'm not sure I'm qualified to give advice on what to spend money on, and more than that, once I give something away, what right do I have to stipulate what's done with it? I don't give money to panhandlers, because when I give that money to social agencies, they can solve more problems with it. I don't give money because money doesn't solve the problem.
But, whether I give money or not, I still have this ethical dilemma. What do I do about the asking? And where the rubber meets the road, if I believe that all people have worth, and deserve dignity, how do I respond? How do I reconcile that I treat co-workers and customers and friends and family differently than a panhandler? And, perhaps more than this, does it matter?
About a year ago, I decided it did. About a year ago, I decided that I could respond to a request for money with a "Sorry, no." I could look at someone, look them in the eyes, and smile. I could say "Good Morning" when they looked up and held their cap at me. This year I decided I could carry granola bars and those cheap stretchy gloves to hand out. I could treat everyone like a person. With worth and dignity.
About a year ago, I decided that someone who was nice to their husband, and not nice to a street person, she wasn't very nice at all.
No homework this week, but I'm interested to know what you think.