You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
Well, maybe sometimes you can. There are times when you know when something is appealing or unappealing, positive or negative, just by looking at it. It’s often said that generalizations are there for a reason. Right?
Well, I had a couple of experiences over the last few weeks that got me thinking about this, particularly when it comes to generosity with money. Interestingly, they involved homeless people.
Both instances occurred in downtown Chicago, right of Michigan Avenue – otherwise known as “The Magnificent Mile”. It’s proximate to upscale hotels, stores, and shopping. Nevertheless – or perhaps because of that reason – you will find a few homeless people hanging about in the area.
The first case involved a homeless guy who is often sitting in a particular location, which I walk past on occasion. This guy is scruffy, weather beaten, and disheveled in appearance each time I have seen him sitting there. He looks to be in his 40’s, though it’s hard to tell because the outside elements have a way of aging people.
Anyway, one day recently I walked past him, and noticed that instead of his customary behavior of rattling a coin cup, he was eating. Yes, it looked like he was eating a breakfast sandwich! Good, I thought, he’s not starving.
Then, he did something that I found interesting. He took very tiny little pieces of the sandwich, and tossed them to some small birds that were hopping about on the sidewalk. My initial reaction was, “What’s the matter with him? He’s lucky enough to get food, and he’s giving it away to some birds! He’s nuts.”
After thinking about it, I came to another conclusion: the homeless guy is actually generous. Here’s a guy who’s resorting to begging on the street, looking ragged and destitute, yet he’s sharing food with these little birds. Maybe he relates to them in some way. They’re out of their element in the urban environment, and basically have to take any opportunity they can to pick up some food. That’s how they survive. That’s how HE survives also.
The second occurrence happened last week, within a few blocks. It was the lunch hour, and most people were professionally dressed and quickly going where they needed to go. This apparently included three women that were headed down the sidewalk in the opposite direction as me. In between these women and I was an older homeless woman.
As these women approached, my mind very quickly made a few assessments, in a matter of seconds. First, they were very attractive, very well dressed women in their mid-20’s; two of them had sunglasses on to accent their professional outfits. Second, they looked – shall we politely say – snooty?
The women strutted along, looking like Charlie’s Angels. Then, abruptly, they stopped in front of the homeless woman. One of the ladies warmly smiled, held up a small bag in her hands, and nicely asked the homeless lady, “Would you like a croissant? I just bought it”
The homeless lady slowly took it, with a dazed look in her eyes. She then slowly walked off in the same direction I was going. Meanwhile, the 3 young women walked past me and went on their way as well.
I thought to myself: even though they looked as if they were arrogant, self-absorbed people, they were actually very kind and nice women. They saw the older homeless lady, and didn’t walk right by her. Instead, they showed compassion, and took a moment to help her.
What did I take away from these experiences?
- I remembered that it’s important to realize that there are, in fact, those times when you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover
- Generosity can take many forms, and can come from people in different circumstances
- You don’t have to be wealthy to be generous in spirit
It was refreshing to see.