The kindness bug

By Sean Crawford

Editor, the Gauntlet,

Re: “Hardened: an awkward juxtaposition,” Dec. 9, 2004,

A few issues ago, someone lamented becoming increasingly hardened to homeless beggars while saying to them, “No, I’m sorry.” My roommate used to say “sorry” and stuff as we passed prostitutes. “If you think it through,” I told him, “You’ll see that a simple “no” is enough. Forget sorry.”

As for beggars, euphemistically called panhandlers, the thinking has already been done. A Herald reporter last year interviewed the head of an non-government organization (The Mustard Seed) a government organization (social services) and the Calgary Police Service and I forget who else. The research was unanimous: all said not to throw your money at the problem. Just like kindly feeding the Banff bears: your ignorant actions will do more harm than good. Much more harm.

Why? For a reasonable explanation you may waltz on over to the bleeding heart students and profs in the big red building. For my less reasonable take, read on:

I had an epiphany, see. I was in a mom and pop cafe. The mom said “thank you” to her husband and then a semi-homeless person expressed surprise at such politeness. Aha!

I thought about the starving students and the stressed out immigrants who live together in order to share the rent. The price of sharing is politeness, right? I envisioned social workers teaching workshops, running support groups: “My name is Joe and I’m trying to be polite.” “Hi Joe.” “Yesterday my roommates were so mad at me they said I deserved to be homeless after I­–“

My revelation is that politeness is next to godliness, no, that politeness is snug between self-respect and self-responsibility. That someone who has learned politeness in the home may have character on the sidewalk and in the workplace. Wow! A job!

But it’s an impossible dream. For surely some lazy student won’t try to do difficult activism. No, he will just toss coins to the beggars. Call it “slackervism.” It sucks.

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