As I was leaving a meeting a few days ago in the downtown LA area I saw a gentlemen seating outside the door. He had a styrofoam cup in his hand. I've lived in and been around the city enough to know that is the universal symbol of, "I need some money. Will you help?" Being that there are so many in the city that assume this position I, like most people, have learned to look past the person with the cup.
Tonight I was reminded that this was that, "a person". More importantly, a person in need. He was in need of some money, but also of being reminded that he mattered to someone Now, as I said, there are a lot of people in the city that are in need and asking for help. It's more than any one person can do alone. I think I've kind of convinced myself that if I help one or two here or there or give money to a church that helps people it's ok to ignore and just keep walking past them.
I was challenged, however, with the notion of whether I thought I was better than that person because I had money and he, apparently, did not. Did I believe that poverty was simply a state of having more material possessions than that person? If so, then would that make me more blessed and better than the person with the styrofoam cup? If that was the case then is the person who makes more money than I a better person and more blessed than I?
The problem was, as was pointed out by Dr. Brian Fikkert, co-author with Steve Corbett of "When Helping Hurts- How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself". They remind us that so often we think of providing money to someone as the way to help a person. While the person sitting outside a facility with a cup in their hand is a pretty good sign they do want some ducketry we have to ask ourselves if that is what is most needed. Sure, it's easy. They want money to eat, or possibly something else like booze, but that's ok, because after all it's not my responsibility. The question is, what is our responsibility?? Is it enough to put a few coins in their pocket, or in this case, the cup. Perhaps there IS something more. Building relationship is one of my personal core values and so I have passed that down to most of my children.
How does relationship occur on a corner or on the street? Well, the truth is you may not have much time to develop much relationship during a brief encounter on a street corner, but maybe we can do more than simply drop a few coins and drive off or walk off. If nothing else, a look in the eyes to let the person know you really do care about them and don't just see them as part of your periodic penance.
A look in the eyes and a smile may not seem like much, but for a person so often looked beyond or ignored it can.
Simply remind them that someone does care about them. This said, it is important to teach kids to care about people, especially those in need. While many believe it is up to the government or charitable organizations to help people it is important to teach kids that all have a responsibility to care and show compassion. It may be the person begging for money on the corner or it may just be the friend who may have lost a parent or is struggling with changes at home.
Showing compassion is one of the most important lessons we can teach our kids. In an American Psychological Association article entitled, "What Makes Kids Care?: Teaching Gentleness in a Violent World", the author points out that when teenagers were involved in helping others they were much more positive about their own lives. And when our children feel more positive about their own lives and the future, they want to work to make it better.
There are steps that can be taken to teach kids to show compassion and care. These steps are simple, but require consistency. One of the most important ones is showing random acts of kindness to your kids. Teaching kids to care as discussed in a Huffington Post Article, reminds us that it is a day-to-day practice of showing compassion that makes a difference in the lives of our children. Yes, it starts today, but it keeps going everyday.
Making a difference.