The other day, I was driving toward a highway intersection with my windows down and ended up stopped directly next to a man panhandling with a sign that said “Hungry, Anything Helps.” Normally, I would meekly smile and continue on my way, but the fact that I was actually right next to this man, making eye contact, with little space between us and a red light ahead, compelled me to engage more closely with him.
The debate about the “best way” to respond to people who are panhandling seems to come up a lot. There is an extreme discomfort in the interruption that people in poverty present to our daily routine. It’s harder to ignore poverty when it is not an “it” at all, but a “who,” a person whose poverty often stems from our broken political policies or a lack of resources. But, on a practical note, how can our (often brief) interactions with people in poverty affect any sort of change that is meaningful?
I am certain that most everyone wants to respond in a compassionate way, which is why this debate arises so often. On a systems-scale, affecting political, economic, and social change would offer people in poverty a much better opportunity for success. But, in the meantime, how can our small-scale interactions acknowledge the life and dignity of the people we encounter? What’s your take?