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The Gift of Kindness: A Simple Reason to Give What We Can

Helping the Homeless

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ~Dalai Lama

“Look at that guy,” I said to my wife.

We were circling the block looking for parking when I spotted him on the sidewalk in front of the bank. For some reason he stood out from the other people in the area.

“Seems off,” I thought to myself.

As I passed by, I kept an eye on him. He didn’t seem to be going anywhere, just walking back and forth along the sidewalk in front of the bank.

He was looking around and moving around like he was waiting for someone, but clearly he was alone.

We came back around the block and I parked in a loading/unloading zone.

“Make sure they don’t tow me,” I joked to my wife. I hopped out of the car and made my way to the bank’s ATM on the sidewalk.

Half way through the transaction I heard a very small voice coming from behind me.

“Can I have two dollars? I need two dollars for the bus.”

The voice was so small that at first I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or someone else. I continued with my transaction without acknowledging the question.

“That’s awesome. You’re ignoring me,” he continued.

At this point I realized that he was talking to me. I didn’t respond.

The voice got smaller and turned into mumbling. I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

I finished the transaction and turned back toward my car. He was standing near my car but not in the way.

I looked at him.

In front of me was a disheveled, forty-something man. The years appeared cut into his face in the form of deep wrinkles accentuated with dirt.

The wrinkles could have meant a man much older, but his overall demeanor suggested youth. He still had the aura of a younger person.

His hair was very short and he was holding a coffee.

As I walked toward my car he stopped talking. I got around to the driver side and opened the door.

“No,” I said loudly and resolutely while looking at him. It was the answer to his earlier question, and also an answer to him in general.

He didn’t respond.

Driving away I felt uneasy and my mind replayed the situation a few times.

I have given money to people in the past. It hasn’t happened often, but sometimes.

My problem with this man was that I felt he didn’t need the money. It was the coffee that bothered me. He had a cup of coffee in his hands. Premium coffee.

Coffee, I later learned, would be our connection.

I had forgotten about him by the next day while I was waiting in the Starbucks drive through line. We reached the service window.

“Hi! The car in front of you paid for you,” the barista said.

“What?” I replied. I was caught off guard.

“Your order has been paid for,” she reiterated. She handed us our items. “You’re good to go.”

“Thanks,” I replied reaching for the items.

My daughter asked me why I was shaking my head as we pulled forward.

“The universe is always teaching me lessons,” I said smilingly.

She looked at me blankly.

That’s what I call it when stuff like this happens—the universe teaching me lessons.

Over the years I have learned to pick up on this phenomena. The lessons are broad and typically focus on topics like compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and renewal. They always emerge through the random coupling of everyday events.

Some lessons are blatant, but others can be very subtle. The subtle ones are the best. Sometimes I will only “get it” after a couple of days letting it sink in.

This one I considered blatant. The lesson being:

Share what you have. Give—even if they don’t need it.

I didn’t give that man any money because I didn’t believe he needed it. My assumption was that earlier that day he had traded some of his money for that coffee he was holding.

If he really needed two dollars, then he shouldn’t have spent his money on that coffee.

But, that reaction is totally contrary to the lesson.

Later, as I stewed on the lesson, a couple of thoughts occurred to me: Maybe there was no coffee in that cup. Maybe he was collecting change with it. Maybe the cup was empty. Maybe the cup only had water in it.

The point was that I didn’t know. I assumed.

The bigger point was that it didn’t matter whether the cup was filled with premium coffee, gold coins, or anything else.

Giving is not about the other person’s perceived need; it’s about the act itself.

We are choosing to be the best version of ourselves when our actions demonstrate the best within us.

Do you remember how you felt the last time you gave? I am willing to bet you felt good about yourself, and good about the act. And that’s great!

Now, was that good feeling because you filled a need, or because of the act in general?

Think about it. You can say it was both, but I am also willing to bet that you would feel just as good if you gave to someone who didn’t really need it.

The good feeling comes because giving is an act of kindness.

The person in front of me in the drive through that day could have looked in her rearview mirror and concluded that I didn’t need it.

After all, I am driving a newer car, my clothes were clean, and the assumption is that I can afford a coffee since I am already in the drive through line.

Her gift to me was not because I needed it.

Her gift to me was about kindness. It was about doing that extra little bit to lift someone else up.

Lesson taught. Lesson understood.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

About Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson is a Seattle area writer and creator of The Red Cabbage. TRC provides inspiration, unique insights, and rock-solid strategies for 30-somethings looking to accelerate in business and life. Join our community and receive my free web series and e-workbook, 7 Questions to Uncovering Your Purpose.

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  • Rosa

    Thank you for this timely post. I’d set aside some money to donate after my son’s birth… He’s 6 months now and I’m still hunting around for a ‘needy’ cause. This was a gentle kick in the a** for me.. Thank you..

  • tanu

    Its a beautiful and inspiring article. I learned something valuable. Thank u.

  • Isn’t it funny how if we play close enough attention, the universe is always trying to show us and teach us something? I really love this. Thank you for sharing.

  • Yoshi

    I was walking with my dad today in central London and noticed a man sitting in a corner of the pavement. I didn’t pay him any more attention and walked on. My dad gave me £20 to go back home (I don’t see my dad often) and left me in front of the underground station. As I went down the steps of the station, I saw a McDs advert on the wall. As it was a few feet down the road and I was hungry, I went there and got myself a nuggets meal. Long story short, I didn’t finish my nuggets and normally would have thrown it away but I don’t know why that man sitting on the pavement came to mind and I saved them for him. I walked back to where he was, passers-by were looking at him in disgust as he seemed to not have showered in days. He was’t even asking them for money. I approached him and as I came close, he had taken his sock off and was picking his feet and more passers-by scrunched up their noses as they went past him. I went in front of him and asked him if he wanted the nuggets; he didn’t say a word, just stretched his hand out and looked up at me with startingly beautiful blue eyes. He also had a long rough beard. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was surprised but also grateful so I gave them to him and just walked away after that. I don’t know why I didn’t stay back for an answer and I don’t know if he even ate the nuggets but I felt great. Sorry about the long story, this article made me remember this and I just felt really good all the way back home. 🙂

  • Yoshi

    Just wanted to add: Isn’t that all that matters? 🙂

  • Jenn

    Thank you for sharing this. What a beautiful and valuable reminder of the importance of kindess and giving. And that reminder even went a little deeper when you mentioned how you assumed. Sometimes it can be too easy to do that and we’re too quick to assume something about others. This is such a great reminder that everyone is on their own journey and has a different story to tell and what they envision as their own happiness. Why not help out each other when we can 🙂

  • uncadiane

    Loved this! I rarely run into street people asking for money where I live. But I run into them in other areas. If I have the money, I give them some. I believe: What I do with my money is between me and the universe, and what they do with the money is between them and the universe. If I give for the right reason, that’s all that matters.

  • Beautiful post. We often forget how good it feels to give, and we all need a reminder from time to time. Thank you.

  • Peace Within

    I’m glad you took this as a lesson. Sharing is caring 🙂

  • Hollene

    But giving currency to people is the problem here. You were given food & drink by that fellow coffee-traveler; this man was asking you for money — which you could not be sure he would actually use for the bus. How often are consumers told to not give out cash, but to offer food, coffee, water or transportation instead? Then you know you’re helping someone rather than possibly helping to fuel an addiction.

  • Callie

    I’ve gone to the food bank and given money so people can buy what they need that is not available @ the food bank. And try to give when asked, which in my neighborhood is generally at the grocery store. There are always opportunities to contribute to the universe’s positive vibes.

  • What a beautiful story.

  • Thanks, Uncadiane. That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I like it!

  • Thanks for the kind words. There is a certain subtlety that the Universe offers. I’m sure this subtlety has passed over my head at least as many times as I have “gotten it.”

  • Hi Clare – Thanks for reading!

  • Agreed! Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Hollene – Yes, they were two different gifts. Part of why I didn’t give to that man, in retrospect, is also that I didn’t know what he would spend it on. But, I’m not sure that matters as much in this particular lesson. My lesson was about the act itself. Who knows what he would have done with it. Thanks for commenting!

  • Thanks for reading!

  • Thank you, Evelina. It’s a lesson I keep needing to learn.

  • Yes! I assume things about others all the time – rightly or wrongly. Sometimes those assumptions can get in the way of reality 🙂

    For me, just when I think I have someone figured out, they can totally surprise me. It’s true, we each have our own stories to tell. So, why not listen?

  • Thanks for sharing, Yoshi! Good on you for taking the time and effort to help that man. Sounds like it made an impression on you.

  • Thank you for reading, Tanu.

  • Ha! Thanks, Rosa. Great comment…

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful message/lesson, thank you for sharing that! 🙂 I like the take away of giving even if it isn’t needed…love it! 🙂

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    This was really an uplifting story on the Power of Kindness…Really needed this today; Thank You for sharing! 🙂

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Reminds me of “The Alchemist…” Highly recommend it if anyone hasn’t read the book!

  • Yes Jeevan! Exactly what I was thinking. That book is amazing and it really hones in on the subtle messages the universe is constantly trying to tell us. It’s just a matter of listening and following what it says.

  • Melliefly

    Great message! When we remove those judgements and limitations from ourself we start to approach situations differently. I understand that dillema of wondering what a perceived homeless person might spend the two bucks on. Then I realize it’s none of my business, i did my part and the rest is on them. There’s no point creating an internal conflict about spare change. But like you mentioned, sometimes it is just about paying it forward and sending those good vibes out into the universe!

  • doodlebeats

    Love this!

  • Angie

    I read this and saw that you missed another opportunity to give, as most times in the drive through line, if someone has bought yours, you continue to pay it forward until the kindness reaches someone who could really use it…

  • Teresa Dean Smeigh

    I agree with you uncadiane. I always give no matter what. I feel I did the right thing and it is their Karma that will suffer if they don’t.