Making It Real

Begging Signs

As I pulled up to the stoplight on my way to a friend’s house, the  ubiquitous begger was standing there with a sign. This man had a much more sophisticated approach than other’s I have come across. He had a large sign, constructed on a stick, to carry so everyone could clearly read it. He had a beverage cooler and a chair for in between breaks. His sign was a story to engage the drivers, pulling up next to him at this busy intersection. It said, “Imagine seeing your child dying and not being able to help. My nine year old has cancer. Any little bit will help.”

People rolled down their windows and contributed to his cause. I felt the tug of wanting to contribute as well, but I was suspicious and chose not to. As I drove away, the thoughts of signs and stories began to wander through my imagination.  This man had a story. Whether it was true or not, he had a story.

Another man in a different part of town also has a story. He carries a sign stating, “I am strong and available to work. Not a capatalist,” which also raises some questions because he is at the same spot five days a week solicitating. He does look strong as he dances along the grassed strip dividing the four-lane road.

The next thought came to mind is whether we shouldn’t all carry signs stating what we are, or what we need. Perhaps they could read, “I am happy,” or “I am hungry for love and attention,” or “I need to find the perfect spot for my newly acquired boat.”

Can you imagine asking for a hug from strangers with the sign, “All I need is a big hug!”

Or what about the sign that says, “I am tired of not being authentic. I want to be authentic with everyone. Please help.” We really might get what we want or need if we asked more, if we put it out there for others to see.

Many of our needs are buried in the pretense or our lives. We may not know what we exactly need. We may not recognize the signs in our own actions and experiences that are crying out (and that most likely everyone else sees in us). We easily ignore them as we do the people begging on the streets. Beggars also portray a pretense in order to gain funds, but many are honest with their signage, “I am hungry,” or “I need beer money,” or “Will work for food.”

Imagine walking around with virtual signs above our heads letting others know what we are seeking in that moment? Asking for something is also part of  knowing how to receive  it. If you have ever been in a place of real need, whether it is a physical, intellectual or emotional, it can be humbling to ask. In effect, we are depending on that other person for the answer, the result.

There are actual websites giving people advice on how to beg! One such website- gives amazing tips on how to present yourself and your sign to reach more people and gain their confidence and money. The dictionary describes begging as,” asking for something humbly or earnestly, usually money or food.”

One of the tips for begging includes asking in a soft voice for money, then always replying with a humble thank you, regardless of whether you receive anything from the person you asked.One tip is that you actually have a small, cheap item to hand to them for their donation. It is a way to say thank you in a tangible way. They suggest a paper flower, a small carved wood item, or even a bottle cap painted with nail polish in a creative way.

Some faiths forbid begging, such as Islam. Some faiths encourage it ( Remember the popularity back in the 70 and 80’s of orange robed followers of Hira Krishna?)  Many faiths, such as Christianity, instruct its followers to give to the poor, the orphans, and the widows.

Another tip from the begging website states that you need to know your audience. The more you can connect with them, the more effective your begging will be. People feel good giving, so if you can find a particular need to beg for (the man with the sick child), people will be more willing and happier giving.

Every major city has a problem with beggars. In the US, we call them panhandlers. Tickets are given for loitering in a certain area. For the most part, beggars are tolerated. Some make it a real business, raking in better money than your average wage earner, while others beg due to choices of drug habits, unable to hold a job down, or mentally unstable.

I am not trying to solve the problem of begging or even the social responsibility associated with it. This is a complicated subject with too many factors to have easy answers to. I do know how others are addressing handing out money though. In lieu of cash, individuals and church groups assemble care packages for people to carry with them and contribute. Stored in a quart-size ziplock bag miniature packs of meat, crackers, soap, kleenex, wet-wipes, water, and the bare essentials is a solution for those who really are in need.  Handing a beggar a sandwich, or a protein bar is another way to address those who truly want to eat ( i.e. the homeless) from those who are panhandling as a profession.

I like many people, have confused thoughts concerning begging. Do we support them? Do we give when it feels right, regardless? Are there more effective ways to get the abusers of begging off the street and help those who cannot work for themselves?

I don’t know. I do know that we all have a story. We all have needs, and perhaps, these people who knock on our windows, put their hands out for money, or dance in the mid-way are all just like the rest of us. Perhaps, we can learn something about being authentic with our own needs and asking for the things we need from others. We can certainly be grateful that as we sit in our air-conditioned cars that our life is blessed in many ways.

Remember- as tip number five on the begging website says, “smile and be courteous.” Smiles are free, and we all need them. Giving smiles away never brought harm.

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