I want to tell you a story. The purpose of this story is to challenge how you look at the world around you. Though it may make you want to stop being generous and helping those who seem to be in need, I want you to look beyond that frustration and look at the real reason of this story: our world is in pain.
This isn’t a story about the environment. Though the word environment means ‘the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates,’ so the word environment is exactly what I am talking about. Granted, not in the sense most people would think if I flat out said, ‘This is a story about the environment!’
I live in downtown San Diego, California. Downtown San Diego isn’t anything like downtown Chicago or Los Angeles. We have no alleys and our downtown is probably about fifteen city blocks by fifteen city blocks. As of a report from 2015, San Diego is the number four in the nation with the highest population of homeless. Our homeless can be found mostly on the edges of downtown, and I live three blocks from where the most homeless can be found in downtown San Diego.
One night in March, I was waiting for my wife to come outside of our apartment because I was driving her to dinner. As I sat in my car, I was approached by a man who was decently dressed—didn’t look homeless. He came up to my window and motioned that I roll it down, so I did. He didn’t look like he was there to shank me or anything.
He then told me his story:
“Hello sir, I’m from out of town. I live in Arizona and I just dropped my son off at the airport. I ran out of gas then I realized I must have forgotten my wallet in my hotel room, is there any way you can help me out with anything?”
Any time someone asks us for money we wonder: are they going to buy drugs and alcohol or are they lying all together? Even if you are the holiest of holies, everyone wonders what the person is going to do with the money. I decided I would be the one to save the day—I had a gas can filled with gas in the back of my car that I could give him!
I told the man, “I actually have a full gas can in my trunk, give me one second.” I then got the gas can and gave it to him. He thanked me and walked away. I hadn’t thought about that night since it happened, until a few nights ago.
It’s now May, and I was walking at night to the grocery store across the street from my apartment complex when I was approached by a man. He said this:
“Excuse me, sir, I am from out of town and I just dropped my son off at the airport — ” I cut him off. It took me a second to recognize him and to process what he was doing, again.
I said to him, “You actually approached me a few months ago with this same story, I gave you my gas can.”
He then started to walk away from me fast, and he stammered, “I—uh, travel back and forth a lot.” He then walked away as fast as he could.
I stood there, watching him walk away, feeling frustrated and completely unsure what to do next.
I could not assume the man was homeless, though he very well may have been. He didn’t smell, he looked to be in good health. The only real assumption I could make from this was that he was a scam artist. Otherwise, why would he walk so far away? Why would he give the same story to everyone he met? And what did he do with my gas can?
All of the thoughts running through my head might be the same running through yours. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who says ‘He must have needed it more than I do.’ I’m not here to make assumptions about this mans life. But what if I was?
He is a con artist.
If indeed this man was a con artist and just going around asking for money when he lives in a nice place downtown, what then? There are people out there who scam. People who fake being in need to get free money. These are the people who make us want to stop giving money to the needy, because who’s to say they are actually needy? Is our world in such a place that a man would choose to take advantage of the goodness of others just because he can? Let me tell you something: hurt people hurt people.
If someone is a con artist, they are still needy. They may not need the money you gave them, but they are in need of love. They are in need of forgiveness. They are in need of encouragement. They are in need of someone to talk to. They are in need and that’s why they are asking for your money, they just don’t know what kind of help they really need.
He is a thief.
If indeed this man was a thief, why is he asking for money? He was not on any obvious drugs. What drove him to lie to strangers in the street? What is the truth? What is the hurt he is hiding? Does he know that people are more willing to give money to a man asking for gas money because he forgot his wallet? Because we walk by the homeless begging for our scraps? Does he know that his truth will limit the amount of money that he could get for his needs? He is a thief. But what he stole was not your money, what he stole was something you stole from yourself—Compassion. You make the choice to keep giving it or not.
How do you heal the hurt? You cannot go around assuming that everyone is a con. The same way, if you have been hurt in a relationship, you cannot go around assuming that everyone will hurt you. If someone is begging for help, will you pass them by? Maybe they are asking for your money, but they just don’t know that what they really need is love? How do you love someone who doesn’t know they need love?
A bitter heart will turn to stone. If you don’t let love out, you cannot let love in.
How do you love someone who doesn’t know they need love? You give them the dollar they are asking for. You tell them it will be okay. You tell them life will get better. Even if they laugh at you, you make the choice. They are rejected by hundreds of people daily. Will you let your bitterness keep you from showing the kindness they really need? Compassion.