When I first moved to New York City, I had a lot to learn about street smarts. Thankfully I have good common sense so I got up to speed pretty quickly! Given my approachable nature, street people would come up to me constantly requesting money or just to chat. I was living paycheck to paycheck so did not have a lot of disposable income to spare. It broke my heart to hear those sad stories!
Over time, I toughened up a bit and set a rule to only give money to those performing – music, recited word, dancing, whatever. In my mind’s rationale I thought entertainment a wonderfully resourceful way to use one’s talents to make a living. After a few years, there were so many performers; I found it difficult to distinguish who I thought, “deserved” a donation and who not. So I stopped.
I changed my rule to give only to those who asked for something to eat. If a person said he/she was hungry or asked for help getting something to eat, I would take him/her into a nearby deli or coffee shop to pick something out (sandwiches and burgers were the most popular!). If I had just come from the market, I would take something out of the grocery bag and hand it over. Not always, but often.
In one encounter, a man and with a young child in a stroller outside of Fairway Market asked for money for groceries and instead I took them food shopping. I was inspired to see what he picked out – items for a home cooked meal including chicken and veggies, breakfast for the week. He was not shy! While on the check out line he actually asked me to watch is daughter so he could grab something for the cart. It was an odd feeling being trusted with a stranger’s child in a public place – I was certainly relieved when he came back, but had no doubt he would (she was such a cute little girl). Anyway, I digress.
Some may say that was kind of me, others thought me insane. One shopkeeper got really annoyed saying I was encouraging the behavior. I didn’t think much of it either way.
Until one instance, when I was with a friend. She is religious and regularly empties the change from her wallet to anyone who approaches. When I inquired as to why, she said the bible teaches to help anyone who asks. I found this excerpt: "Give unto him; he may be our Lord in disguise."
One day while we were scurrying down the street (running late to a meeting), she stopped to dig out change for someone. I told her about my rule for only giving to those who ask for something to eat, saying otherwise I just don’t know where the money goes. (I would hate for it to go toward something illicit or harmful.) She kindly asked, “Who are you to judge who deserves to get something and who not? By giving to anyone who asks, it takes the judgment out of it. Any of these people could be the Lord.”
She had a point. I didn’t know the people and/or why they were begging. We often make judgments based on our own bias. It could be a quick harmless look up and down admiring a nice outfit, admiration of someone’s delicious-looking entrée, nod of respect for a colleague’s achievement.
To be judgmental could be a good thing. By definition, it means, “you form an opinion or conclusion and are decisive,” which is a critical characteristic in many career and social circumstances. It’s important to be able to judge what is right for your loved ones, or the best decision for meeting a business goal. Ever worked for an indecisive boss – chaos!
But it’s when we judge in a biased, potentially harmful fashion when it takes a bad turn. Judging in a mean or catty way can lead to bullying, and ultimately down a really negative road. Bullying and cyber bullying often results in depression, poor self esteem and repeat behavior (a parent who bullies will notice their child does the same). It may be cliché but judging a “book by its cover” has led to many a false assessment.
Even worse is when we judge ourselves harshly. As I’ve stated in other blog entries, there’s no one harder on us than ourselves!
One way to reduce that is to stop judging others – it has been shown that when you stop judging others harshly, then you can truly stop judging yourself.
So I suggest to you today, the small change you can implement right now is to just try to acknowledge when you make a judgment. Is it a biased one? By just recognizing that in yourself, you can start to slightly change the conversation in your mind if needed. For a superficial example, instead of looking at someone and saying “OMG that skirt is so tight” how about “Wow she’s got such great confidence to pull off that skirt.”
For some fun, take the Myers Briggs, a personality test developed to help us discover how we approach life: in a structured way or an open, flexible way. See if you’re a more “judging” or “perceiving” type, and better understand how that might impact your decision making process.
Someone close to me once said you “you cannot help everyone, Marjorie. But you could say a prayer for them.” I loved that sentiment! So now, whenever I see someone in need on the street, whether it’s someone asking for money or otherwise – looking sad, angry, disheveled – I acknowledge the person in my head, and say a brief prayer of support. I guess it’s somewhat selfish really, as who knows if it helps the person, but I sure do know it helps me feel like I did something! And sometimes I still buy them a snack.
Marjorie, Chief MOJO Maker™