A guide to social etiquette and life’s mysteries for the cosmopolitan, well educated and occasionally confused.
Dear Aunty Mavis,
At the traffic lights I am happy to part with a little loose change, but I really object to being disturbed while I am eating. On the other hand I realize that guitar men and transvestites have not been blessed with a fortunate life like us readers of your newspaper.
So my normal response of telling them to piss off is probably not appropriate. How should I handle these interruptions more elegantly?
Dear Outdoor Eater,
Presumably you mean when you are eating at a food stall and a guitar man or a transvestite dancer comes by and performs in front of you hoping for a donation rather than you are eating in your car at a traffic light. One should never eat in a motor car. It’s vulgar.
Drinking is permissible: cocoa from a thermos flask or champagne from the in-car wine cooler, but never food. Eating in a motor car is on the same low level of vulgarity as using a mobile phone or any electronic gadget in a restaurant. Or in the chamber of the House of Representatives.
Eating is a serious business and requires an attentive mind and attitude. Like you, I do not care to be disturbed while dining, just as I don’t like to be disturbed when I am listening to Opera, making love or painting my toe nails. However, the laws of hospitality overrule personal comfort and convenience, especially when it is possible that an unexpected guest, even an unwelcome guest, may be a heaven sent opportunity to entertain an angel unaware.
If I may be brutally frank, you sound like you would like to be a charitable person. But know at present you are not because you recognize you have a grudging spirit and think you are superior to these people. I guess it depends what you consider to be the criteria for “a fortunate life” as compared to others. Surely not the amount one has in the bank? Why many of the rich people in this country are very ‘poor’ specimens of humanity indeed.
Besides you seem to give with a grudging spirit – a “small change” mentality. So long as it doesn’t really cost you anything or dig deep into your pockets.
I suggest you keep your money – small change and all – until you have found the freedom to be really generous – for generosity’s sake – and not in any way to make you feel good about yourself.
Perhaps it is opportune to recall – while the President is in England – an English story. Some years ago, that darling saint Mother Teresa was in London and asked a British politician who managed charitable funds if he would give her $2 million so she could build a refuge for drug addicts and prostitutes who wanted to change their lives.
The politician made all sorts of excuses why he didn’t want to give her the money but finally gave in and grudgingly said, “Oh, alright. I’ll let you have what you want.”
A week later Mother Teresa got the cheque. Then she said to one of her nuns, “Send it back to him. We won’t accept this money. It was not given with love.” And they sent it back.
A few days later someone she didn’t know, completely unconnected with the British government, who knew nothing of her plans sent her $2 million.
The moral of the story? Good things are achieved only with love.
I don’t want to be too harsh on you because I feel your heart is in the right place – it’s just not pure and sensitive enough yet. And we are all like that. But your heart is telling you it wants to be pure and loving. Perhaps that will happen when you realize, that despite whatever we have in the bank or whatever car we drive or where we live or what we own, we are all beggars.
Because everything in life is a gift. Everything we have is ultimately given to us. Why, even our own lives are a gift. Only a fool – and there are a lot of them around in this country – believes he or she has what they own because they have earned it or stolen it, as is often the case here. It is only when we recognize that whatever we have it is a gift that we can then sincerely and generously share what we have with others.
You and I can’t change poverty in Indonesia. But we can be instruments of change by changing our attitudes. And the first thing many of us have to change is the attitude that mistakenly allows us to think for even a second that we are superior – to anyone.
Next time a beggar comes to you when you are eating – instead of saying “piss off,” why not say, “Brother/Sister, would you like to sit beside me and share my meal?”
If you wish your response to be elegant you need to realize that a request for help is not an “interruption” but an opportunity for you to become more yourself. And we become fully human the more we reach out to others.
Yes I know there are a lot of fraud beggars out there and that sometimes it is a rip off. But how many times a day or a week are you seriously asked for help? Probably not enough to lump all these unfortunate people into the same category.
Any opportunity any of us has for treating another human being with compassion and respect is to be valued. Even if all we have to give is a kind word said respectfully.
I think you are a good person, otherwise you wouldn’t have worried about this matter.
I hope you become a great person. You’ll need beggars to help you become so. You see, they are a gift to us. They are the ones who enrich us in the deepest sense.