There are many beggars around my neighbourhood. At times I buy them a coffee or a tea especially when it is cold outside. It is always the ones who stand out there with a copy of the Big Issue in their hands that I then lavish with my small gift of a heart warming cup of tea.
One many in particular whose name I understand is Toby looks more forlorn than the others. His eyes touched a sensitive nerve in my heart. They still had a twinkle underneath the sticky glaze of malnutrition and weathered skin. He had tears in his eyes. He was good. He got me. A soft spot for Toby emerged in my heart that I could not explain. Two weeks ago I sat with him on the side walk to chat, brought him some hot tea and gave him £10 saying it was just a 'one-off' for him to get himself into a shelter.
Now, I was born in India - a country where begging is not uncommon and is a sub-industry run by powerful mafia and degenerate under-world. I've been accustomed to, sensitised to living alongside the poorest of the poor. Sometimes hardened to it. It has been drilled in me that parting with money to beggars is of no good to them. Which is why I resorted to only giving my attention to those that were trying to make a living in what way they could. By selling books, the Big Issue, providing a service.
Why did I then think it a good idea to take Toby to a restaurant to eat a proper meal? Admittedly there was a lot in this for me. It was a test of the fact that I am bold. That I can go beyond just feeling sad and talking about helping. What it was not was any real help for him. Soon enough my 'one-off' £10 became a £5 meal, my time and another £10 to get him into a hostel.
When doing things that make a difference I have electricity all over my body. This time I felt something but it was not electricity. Not the charge felt when a client I coach gets to the other side and feels excited about new possibilities.
Have done him a disservice? Who has this served in the end really? My intention in buying food for Toby was to give him some comfort. He's 66 years old and my intellectual self was telling me 'dont do it' while my emotional self convinced me that it was alright. Just this once the man would have enough to get him into the shelter for the night.
Seeing that this is now not just a 'one-off' thing anymore some hard decision need to be taken. As a coach, one of my current growth areas is being bold. In being bold I hold the client as naturally resourceful and capable and I trust in my own intuition. In being bold I empower the client to make a decision from the inside out.
A conversation with my mother reminded me of an important value that she has lived with and understood in others. That of living life empowered as opposed to victimised. In this case the beggar is perpetually in victim mode and I have helped him continue on his journey in victim mode. What is true for me is that I wanted to make a difference in his life. The only way I will truly make a valuable difference is by facing the hard truth and taking the hard option to stop feeding his victimhood.
Kerry Stewart writes in a recent article Encounter According to O'Halloran, many volunteers think 'that's all they are, just poor people, and I can help them by giving of my excess and that makes me a good person'.
'[But] they are fellow human beings who have skills and capacities and resourcefulness probably far beyond anyone living in a Western society.'