My sister and I need to get back to Moorooka and we need $4 for our bus fares. Could you give me $4?
This good-looking, well-dressed lady looks directly into my eyes, as if defying me to disbelieve her. I am feeling terribly uncomfortable. I don't intend to give her the money for reasons I am not entirely clear about. At the same time, I don't wish to be disrespectful in any way. If any thing, I feel a desperate need to assure her that her request for my money has in no way diminished my respect for her as another living creature.
But my emotions are stirred from their convenient sleep into an unsettling, incongruent, conflicted mess. Why am I unable to say a straightforward, respectful 'No'? Why is my mind scrambling clumsily for another way of saying 'No'? Why is it grasping for some euphemistic alternative disguised as a credible excuse or what I feebly try to convince myself is one? I know that she is not going to believe it. Just because she asks a stranger for money doesn't make her insensitive to people's motivations.
I give her some half-baked excuse amounting to a lie that I don't have any change, hoping that she gets the hint. Instead, she asks if I've got $5 (a note). I vacillate between feeling slightly miffed by her cheek and still trying to find a dignifying way out. No, I say, I don't and this time, it seems I have stopped trying to lessen the blow. She looks at me with the same expression that she's maintained from the start of our encounter, almost dour faced. I briefly wonder what she's thinking. But most of my thoughts are already embroiled in a post mortem.
Why do I feel so uncomfortable about being approached for money in this way? Why don't I give it? What am I really saying when I don't? How can I respond in a way that leaves me feeling good and, hopefully, does something useful for the other person?
I think that most of all, I don't give because I believe it's an inadequate, short term response that at best, would meet an immediate or short term need that's likely to do more harm than good. It's also because there's a very strong voice inside my head telling me that the money will be spent on grog or cigs or drugs rather than getting this lady and her, thus far, not-to-be-seen sister anywhere near where she says they're hoping to go.
In short, I don't believe her story any more than she believes mine. So, on that score, at least, we're even. But beyond that, I'm sure I feel I'm in a better place than she is. If all or most of my assumptions about her are right, I am reassured by the fact that I have not acquired an addiction and worse still, one which I am unable to support financially. Neither am I likely to ask a stranger for money or lie to them about what the money is for.
I know, I am passing judgment on this lady. Or am I? I like to think that I'm making observations about a person and about myself. If anything, I am more concerned with my response and my reasoning (or lack of) and what beliefs and values underlie them. One by one, I hope to pick them open and examine them for I sense there is much I shall discover and learn about myself. Things that will help me regard another human being with true respect and regard, not just for who they are but for their right to their choices in life.