A few years ago, I decided that I would spend the entire week before Christmas doing random acts of kindness for strangers. I saved up some funds and headed out into the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, (my hometown) to dish out some holiday love. It was harder than you would think. I'm usually up for tossing a few bucks to people who are down on their luck, but the Connecticut homeless than I ran into that week were just so very...entitled. First of all, their starting bids were higher than I was used to. Now, granted, I wouldn't expect anyone to be happy with a few pennies, but really-I'm giving you something for free. I am handing my hard-earned money over to a stranger and asking for nothing in return. Why is handing you three dollars unacceptable? I was approached by several people who asked me if I could spare ten or twenty dollars. Don't you think that your expectations are a bit high?
Despite my initial irritation at the attitudes displayed by those who were only getting a few dollars from my wallet, I was determined to stay in the spirit of giving. As I sat in my car with the reluctant friend I had corralled into this mission, an older man approached my car window. Despite my friend's protests, I rolled down the window and was greeted with a plea for bus money. I handed over some cash and he thanked me profusely...then headed directly into the liquor store across the street, emerging ten minutes later sucking on the bottle poking out of his bag.
After the expected chorus of "I told you so"s from my friend, I decided to give up my mission for that night and focus on a new mission: finding the perfect Christmas cocktail. We strolled around looking for a bar when, again, I was approached by a homeless man.
"I'm starving," he began. "Can you spare a few bucks so that I can get something to eat? I haven't eaten all day. Please, ma'am."
We happened to be standing right in front of a convenience store. "Look," I said, "I'm not going to give you any money, but if you are hungry I'll go into this store and buy you a sandwich, okay?"
He stared at me for a minute, then said, "That would be wonderful, ma'am, but you don't need to do that. Just give me the money and I'll buy it myself."
"No, sorry, I will buy you something, but otherwise I'm not giving out any more money tonight. Would you like a sandwich?"
He nodded and we went into the store. My friend, certain that I was about to be murdered by this homeless guy and wanting no part of it, chose to continue on to the bar next door.
The store had a refrigerator full of pre-made sandwiches, and I waited while he looked them over. "I don't like anything here!" he whined. "There's no turkey!"
"Well, isn't there anything here you will eat?" I asked.
"No! Screw this, I'm makin' my own sandwich." At that, he began to pile up condiments and sandwich meats. "And I don't see any Wonder Bread! Dammit! Go ask the guy if they have any. And ask him where the pickles are."
Like a true jackass, I went to find his Wonder Bread. When I returned, he had about three pounds of turkey, every condiment in the aisle (including Miracle Whip...ugh) and a candy bar. "Done yet?" I asked, my patience (and extra cash) wearing thin.
"Well, you're going to buy me a coffee, right? You can't just buy me a sandwich and expect me to eat it without a drink! I'm thirsty!"
"Fine," I said, "Get your coffee."
He ordered the largest coffee they had, and I went up to pay. Total cost of this adventure? Over twenty dollars. I didn't have enough cash left to cover it, so I put it on my card. As I paid, he looked around for more things to buy.
"I could use..." he began.
"Forget it. Enjoy your sandwich...all of your sandwiches, actually, since you now have enough ingredients to cater a small wedding."
"Yeah, ok." Without a single "thank you", he walked out the door with his bag of groceries.
I went next door, poorer, but giggling over the comic aspects of this exchange, and shared my shopping adventure with my friend. In minutes, she was tearing up with laughter. As we sipped on our cocktails, she told me she hoped I had learned my lesson. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to realize: giving doesn't just benefit the recipient. Even though it hadn't worked out the way I had planned, I still felt better about myself for reaching out to others. And, just maybe, these little acts of kindness had more far-reaching implications than I knew.
So bear this in mind when you are wondering whether to give, based on the appreciation factor. It's not just for the other person; it's for you, as well. I still think of that particular week before Christmas with fondness and nostalgia, and I like myself just a little more because of it. And isn't that in itself, priceless?