$elf-e$teemCategory: General   Aug 4th 2013  10:51AM   2

There are those who look at a homeless person holding a sign asking for a handout, and see a lazy, weak, self-centered addict and burden on society. All of which may be technically true and yet is by no means the full picture of that human being or his situation. What I see is someone lacking in self-esteem, motivation, guidance, the means to escape the hole he's dug himself, or the courage to try.

Many if not most of us have dug one hole or another for ourselves, whether it's a bad marriage we don't have the courage to escape, an eating disorder we don't have the strength and self-love to overcome, or an unsatisfying career trajectory (that seems) too established to quit.

With the exception of fat-shaming, none of these more palatable fates repulses the average citizen like the sight of a homeless person and I am often chastised for handing them a little money at the stoplight. I'm told, "They'll just spend it on booze," or "You're encouraging their laziness." Even if those statements are true (although I don't believe the latter ever is), I still have good reason to pass them a few bucks.

For less than the cost of a kale smoothie (or 2 vente Starbucks coffees, if you're so inclined) I get to help another human being feel less invisible and worthless for a few seconds. This man lacks more than a roof, food, or job. He lacks the kind of belief in himself required to attain those things. My fiver isn't going to do more than temporarily quench his thirst or abate his hunger, but the touch of my hand may be the only human contact he has that day (or week or month). My comment that I hope he doesn't get overheated (in Austin's 105 degrees) may be the only kind thought he hears that summer. My smile may be all he has to offset the averted gaze of a thousand other disgusted drivers.

I guarantee, no matter how much those drivers hate seeing him on that corner, the raw, repulsive embodiment of every human flaw and failing they cannot bear to acknowledge in themselves, he hates being there more. No matter how much they loathe him, he loathes himself more. No matter how much they would shame him, he shames himself infinitesimally more.

Money means something beyond financial security to everyone. The richest people in the world glean validation and self-worth through the accumulation of money. As for the homeless man, my dollars are only a drop in the bucket of his parched self-worth. But I am telling him, when I slap that cash into his palm, squeeze his hand softly, look into his eyes, and say, "I hope things get better for you. Good luck to you, brother," that I SEE HIM. That he is not invisible or worthless and that someone does give a damn. I cannot fix that man's problems. All I really expect for my money is the chance to remind him of his humanity and maybe give a 30-60 second reprieve from the shame he lives with 24/7.

Sometimes cash is just a quantifiable hug, especially when actually hugging random street people is probably not in anyone's best interest (although not a bad idea for a reality show?). Ignoring them is not going to magically "encourage" them to go get a job, yet interacting with them can magically remind me how good I have it.

I've had my share of hardship. I made a lot of mistakes in my youth, screw ups from which I was able to rebound through luck, privilege, and no small amount of support and encouragement from loved ones and strangers. These days I have many comforts, including a $7/day kale smoothie habit. On the way, I sometimes slip $3 to a homeless man who unknowingly reciprocates by inspiring 30-60 seconds of gratitude for my abundant life. Deal of the freaking century.

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