Responsibilities of the Rich

 What good is hoarding?

Yesterday, Susie Gibbs posted a thoughtful note on her blog about an encounter with a cold homeless man that changed the way she'll spend her winter.  She regrets missing an opportunity to help him, when she clearly had the means to do it, and vows to not miss that opportunity again.

Got me to thinking about the whole concept of wealth and altruism in our world of poverty and need.

We do, every one of us, have choices about how we look at the world, and how we arrange our days.  As a friend's e-mail reminded me not long ago, we have roofs over our heads, food in the fridge, clothes, a way to stay clean, and money in our pockets.  That puts us, economically, in the upper 1% of the world's population.  It's pretty petty of us to complain about our situations in light of the rest of mankind's woes.

With that in mind, and now that the warm-fuzzy-holidays are past, how will we live the rest of the year?  Will we wait for the government, or Someone Else, to redistribute the wealth around us?  Social programs are great as far as they go, but it doesn't really engender a giver's heart in me when money comes out of my taxes for "underprivileged people."  And make no mistake - it is, in fact, me, who needs to change.

When I offer a panhandler a sandwich or an apple, or a warm hat, I have to come out of my comfortable shell and sacrifice a tiny bit.  I have to take off the blinders, slow down my rushed pace, look another human being in the eye and, out of my bounty, share with him.

And this doesn't have to be a big deal - if we're prepared, we can just take fifteen seconds to pass on a bit of the wealth we've been dealt.  Our friend Susie has decided to keep several hats and scarves in her car to offer if she runs into a need, in the course of her everyday life.  Another farm friend keeps apples in her car to offer hungry street people.  Why do you have lots when others have nothing?  That's a really complicated question, but one answer is "so that you can give."

And here's my biggest plea:  the gift you give doesn't even have to cost a penny.  Give a kind word of greeting or encouragement to a stranger.  If your Starbucks order gets screwed up, choose to be kind, rather than ugly to the employee, whether they deserve it or not.   If a trainee is checking you out at the grocery store and takes a long time or fumbles, call her by name and tell her it will get easier.  Be patient.  Don't lose your cool or your civility if you get unhelpful treatment from a customer support person on the phone.  It won't help - trust me.  You'll get much further with rationality than with ire. 

And you make that world a better place because you've been there.  Go on... you are rich, and you can afford it.


  1. RIGHT ON, Cindy! After an encounter with a homeless teenager in 1996, one thing I always try to give those begging on streetcorners even if I have nothing else is EYE CONTACT and a SMILE. If I am going to sit in my warm (or cool) car I can at least give them some dignity. I can judge about why they are where they are and refuse to give them money for fear of them spending it on booze, but that doesn't accomplish anything. I try to give what God moves me to give and sometimes that is fruit, or a blanket, and sometimes just a nod of encouragement.

  2. Thanks for this post. It's timely as I just had the most unpleasant experience with telephone customer service rep of a major department store chain. I nearly lost my mind, but had to remind myself that they were doing their "best" (a bit of a stretch under the circumstance) with limited resources.

    It's a struggle. ~ksp

  3. Yeah! I could write an essay here. I am often shocked at the lack of compassion many have for the homeless and even those dealing with drug/alcohol addiction. In neither group will you find those who aspired to be homeless or addicted when they were children. Providing food, warmth and kindness are wonderful gifts. But if you feel compelled to give money, please give it to a soup kitchen or local drug/alcohol treatment facility that provides services to the indigent. Gene and I volunteer at a local center one morning a week, and I know they struggle daily to find the money to serve this (sadly) growing population.

  4. I was proud of my 9 year old son for his act of kindness. He and my husband went to Chicago for a boys trip. As they were walking around my son asked his dad if he could buy a homeless man a hot chocolate. So of course they did and the man was very greatful and wished my son a happy new year. My son then said to his dad "that made me feel good dad". Thanks for sharing Cindy. I plan to do more giving this year. I love the idea if keeping something in the car.

  5. Susie's post touched me too. I had often kept water in the summer but all the comments gave me lots of ideas for other items. I really liked the idea if you made up spares of knitware in green and gold, other knitters might see and be inspired. I think I will dig up that skein of green I didn't know what to do with.

    Thanks for reminding us, Cindy.


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