topiary cats

topiary cats

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Superficial Compassion

There is a video circulating around on Facebook, with the usual Facebook-style-melodramatic-hype.

It is about homeless people going around asking for food and sharing it. The video is extremely contrived but is supposed to have a "powerful message". (synopsis below) I have a few thoughts.

Video Synopsis: 

1. Youngish nice-looking white man walks into food court whining to people to give him food. No one does. So they are heartless people who obviously lack compassion. The man does not look homeless or in need***, and "Is there any way I can have some food" is a strange way to ask. Seriously, it's weird. And the guy is annoying. I would say no too.

(Also, almost every single person asking for food on the trains says "please". Just saying.)

*** Just because someone doesn't look like (or sound like) they are in need doesn't necessarily mean they aren't- yes I know that. All I'm saying is that it is a factor in the response people get.

2. The video shows some guys giving food to a random homeless person, who is camped out in a pretty nice grassy field by a fence. There's nice pretty music too. They approached him and woke him up from a nice nap! WHAT? Also, they assumed he was homeless and in need, and not dangerous. He didn't ask them for anything.  I'm just saying, as far as personal safety goes, this is not smart.

They "bought some food to give to someone" and were wondering if the guy was hungry. HUH? WHAT? There was no one specific in mind when they bought the food?

Oh, but they are such nice and caring and compassionate people. Now they can feel good about themselves forever and all the uncaring people in the food court are heartless shits. This is very "easy" and superficial compassion.  It is too easy, obvious, too black-and-white.

How about showing some non-judgement and compassion to the next stranger who treats you rudely? Or towards someone you philosophically or ideologically disagree with?

The ways to be compassionate aren't always obvious, or "easy". But the opportunities are everywhere. You don't even have to "do" anything; it starts in your thoughts towards others.

People don't have to be in obviously dire straights to need compassion. We are all getting through life as best as we can, with whatever knowledge we have.

3. The Annoying Food Court Guy shows up and does his line: "Is there any way I could have some food?" and food is shared. Oh, and remember from the title, Nobody else would do this. Judgy.

4. Another person joins them and they have a nice little picnic in the grass by the fence. Awwww isn't that nice?

One meal does not change the situation of being homeless.  What happens in a few hours when they are hungry again?

Moral: Sometimes those who have less give more. That actually can be true very often but I have many, many issues with this video. It is a poor example. 

Get some tea, let's go.

1. If someone comes up to me in a restaurant saying "Can I have some food" I am most likely going to say no.  That's right, I will most likely say no.  And that does not make me a heartless uncaring person. It means I can't help, for whatever reason- or maybe I just don't want to get involved, and that is OK too. Especially as a woman. Safety. Because I don't know that person isn't going to sit down with me, or stick around, or follow me, etc.

2. Here in NYC, the sad truth is that there is a good-sized homeless population. People sometimes do ask for food. Usually they want money. In my experience this happens mostly on the trains, or people just sit on the street with signs. It has never, ever happened to me in the scenario this video opens with. Some panhandlers are genuine and I strongly suspect (and sometimes know for a fact**) some of them are not.

** When the same person is panhandling for money to get a bus home to New Jersey because their wallet was stolen and they are stranded- for 6 months straight- it's probably a scam. When you have your schedule and ride the same train at the same time, you see a lot of the same people over and over, panhandlers and musicians included. Many of them run on schedule. (I like some of the musicians.)

3. I see just as many homeless outreach people on the trains loaded with food for anyone who wants it as I see homeless people.

4. I very, VERY strongly disagree with using guilt to manipulate others into giving.  And this is a primary tactic. People have some real tear-jerker sob stories. But my choice to not give does not mean I don't care. Actually, I do. Very much. But reality is that I have to take care of my own life and my child. I really don't have a lot of extra to hand out. My capacity to help everyone else in need is limited- my time, energy, and money is limited.  And that should never be judged. I am not obligated to give, they are not entitled to receive from me. And that does NOT make me a bad person, lacking in compassion. It means that I just don't have the capacity to assist. 
Here is a site with more information and statistics on homelessness (here in NYC), and ways to help. Mostly, according to this site, people in NYC are homeless because of a lack of affordable housing (80%), which is a HUGE problem (and one of the many reasons I detest hipsters so much). A lot of apartments have become de-regulated over the last 20 years, and, well, basically "the rent is just too damn high". Really, what needs to happen is re-regulation and incentives to landlords to keep the rents low. If you are not in a regulated apartment, the landlord can do whatever they want.  And they do.

About two-thirds of people sleeping on the streets (not in a shelter) are drug addicts or have severe mental health issues. 

The Star (upright)
One of my favorites!

The Star is transformation after a hard journey.  It is also a wait-and-see card and a wish for a brighter future.  Motivation to keep going. Have faith, believe in yourself.


  1. Yeah, this sentimental guilt tripping is becoming a bit too much on FB. There are ways to help people in need, give to food banks, help at soup kitchens, budget giving monthly via your salary (here more gets added by the government that way). I too see many "tricks of the trade" and have become a bit cynical, but I still like to help where possible.

  2. I usually say no. That said, I don't distinguish between people. Appearance or the way they ask doesn't really matter. I prefer helping those in need in another way, through donations and good causes.


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