He’s about 45 I think, though he could be 30, or 60. He’s missing a few teeth. He’s had a rough go. He’s wearing a Golden State Warriors baseball hat, a windbreaker, some jeans cut off at the knees and some blue sneakers. He’s standing on the corner with a cardboard sign. It doesn’t even matter what it says. As I drive by I hand him the two or three dollars I had sitting in my cup holder, the change I got when I bought a soda at the gas station today. He told me to have a great day.
As I turn the corner onto 46th street, I look in the rear view mirror and see the dude in the driver seat of the car behind me shaking his head and pointing at me, the woman next to him looking back at the guy with the sign.
We are a society of cynics. Apathetic, myopic cynics. We stake out positions based on our certainty that “someone” is out there gaming the system. We’re certain they’re out there right now, picking up their welfare checks and laughing about what chumps the rest of us are. We’re certain there’s some parasite out there using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks or lobster.
And there’s a guy out there, wearing a Warriors cap, grabbing his cardboard sign, locking his Acura, and taking 2 dollars from a guy driving by.
Let me be crystal clear: I don’t care. In my head, the Warriors cap that took my 2 dollars was a vet who lost his job and has two kids to feed. That guy who cut me off on the highway was rushing to the hospital because his wife just went into labor. And the lady buying a T-bone with her food stamps wants to cook her husband a steak because she just found out he got a job.
Here’s the thing, I don’t know if any of that’s true, but neither does that asshole in the car behind me. And more importantly, I DON’T CARE. I will not be the type of person who clutches pearls with one hand, and a couple dollars in the other.
Are there people out there taking advantage of suckers like me? Sure. Are there people out there using the system to keep from being productive? Yes. And are there people out there who believe they have a right to my hard-earned money? Yep. And it sure would be nice for those leeches to get their comeuppance. But that’s not the point.
There are people out there who do need help, people who try, who want to contribute. There are people out there whose lives have been derailed. There are people out there who suffer while fruitlessly doing everything in their power to recover. In my life I’ve seen and known a lot of people who at some point needed a little help. I haven’t ever met someone who chuckled while counting the fat stacks of welfare cash they’re picking up on their way to buy an XBox.
But also, not the point.
My point is this: I will not be cynical. I choose to believe that most people are good and well-meaning. I choose to hand them my two dollars and believe I made their day better. I choose to not stuff that two dollars in my pocket and view the world with suspicion. Because I believe the stories and motives we assign to people we’ve never met say more about us than they do about a guy in a Warrior’s cap with a cardboard sign.