Every time I step on a subway and hear a declarative “Excuse me” my ears perk up. I quickly scan the rest of the car to find the eyes of a person who has fallen on hard times. As I rise up from my seat and move with purpose towards the man, I feel the curious gaze from those around me grace my shoulders.
No words. No hesitation. Just open arms. I go in for a strong 2 second hug. Then I ask him his name and tell him mine is Scott. We usually talk till my stop at which point I make my way to the door. A smile rests firmly on my face as I step off because an explosion of joy has just filled my heart.
I started talking to the homeless after I realized that a dramatic paradigm shift needed to take place.
People walk by the homeless everyday and feel good about themselves when they give them a dollar. “Yeah” they think, “I’m making a difference. Did my good deed for the day. Heaven here I come!”
I’m not saying a dollar for a hot meal doesn’t help. It does and I know these people are grateful for it. The problem is that this is a band-aid solution. What these people really need is our time, energy, expertise, and resources. This combination is far more effective at getting them off the street and on to leading more sustainable lifestyles. I plan on writing a ton of posts on this.
For most of us, it’s unrealistic to think we can effectively do our day jobs while devoting our time, energy, expertise and resources to help every homeless person we encounter. So I decided that a good middle-ground solution that I could practice on a daily basis is to just to stop and talk to them for a few minutes. It saddens me that I never have to look far.
Describing these interactions as personally rewarding is a vast understatement. And I’m pretty sure the value chain exists on both sides of the equation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “thanks for actually talking to me” muttered. What a sad commentary on the time allocation preferences of our society.
My favorite time to talk to homeless people is on the subway which is why I painted the picture above. On a subway you have a captive audience and exponential network effects exist on the offline world. Within this theatre of our everyday lives, you’re presented with an incredible opportunity to show people what humanity is all about. Without fail, the people that witness these interactions start opening the wallets in the aftermath. It’s kind of funny. Now if I could only get them to shift their paradigm to one in alignment with a more sustainable solution.
I’ll never forget one time following a subway interaction when this wall-street looking guy who probably was wearing a custom suit more expensive that my entire closet grabbed my hand. He looked at me with a tear in his eye and just said thanks. I also will never forget when this Filipino actress/tv host whose pretty easy on the eyes came over and talked to me afterwards. Yeah, we still keep in touch : ) NBD
I’ve wanted to write about this practice for a long time because it has had an incredible impact on my life. I’m just a better, more thoughtful person.
But until now I always hesitated to share this because there are certain aspects of my life that are sacred. For better or worse I tend to silo these things off from most people. I do this mainly because the idea of drawing attention to them in a way that could be perceived as self-promotional never sat well with me. This is the same reason why I’ve been intentional about being alone when I talk to homeless people.
I’ve come to realize siloing off these parts of my life is an selfish act. If I share them with others there is a greater chance to have a positive influence on the world around me. This was my motivation for writing this post. If you’re reading this and think otherwise go pound sand. Ultimately, knowledge is life’s richest currency and we should always share it when it can make those around us better. Nothing is cooler than finding out an accomplishment or something cool about someone else without them telling you. However, I liken this to wasting food on the table of making the world a better place.
If one person who reads this takes the time to talk to a homeless person in the next month I’m chalking this up as a win. A Shutout if they do it on the subway.
Man that felt good.