I believe in hand-ups, not handouts. “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” as a Chinese proverb goes.
A few years ago a buddy and I went to San Francisco for the weekend. I was pretty much raised there, but anyone who has visited that City by the Bay in the last few years will tell you it has become a city of beggars and bums (and, yes, there is a difference between a bum and someone who lost his home and is on the streets). You can’t walk 10 feet without someone hitting you up for money.
It’s gotten so bad the city has lost much of its appeal because nobody enjoys being harassed three or four times per block.
My friend is one of the most generous people I know. He’d give you the shirt off his back if he knew you really needed it.
He’s also one of the hardest working people I know; one of those guys who has gotten up every morning prepared to do whatever it took to put a roof over his family’s head and that generally meant pounding nails, or pouring concrete, no matter what the weather had in store.
He’s roofed homes in Las Vegas when it’s been 110 degrees and he’s framed homes in the snow when it was below freezing.
So when we were in San Francisco I shouldn’t have been surprised when someone stopped us and asked my friend for money.
“What can you do?” my friend asked the fellow.
“What do you mean?” the bedraggled man asked.
“Just what I said,” my friend responded. “I’m not going to just give you money. What can you do?”
The man stood there with a bewildered look.
“You must know how to do something,” my friend continued. “Can you sing? Do you know any card tricks? Can you make something … maybe a paper airplane even?”
The man suddenly started singing and he was actually pretty impressive. Once he finished his little tune my friend gave him $5, which the man snatched and stormed away with, uttering an indignant “A-hole” over his shoulder.
I thought about that after reading a story out of Portland where an 11-year-old girl named Madison was trying to sell some mistletoe so she could earn enough money to pay for her braces. According to the story, she’d cut and bagged the mistletoe on her uncle’s farm.
Last Saturday, Madison brought her bags of mistletoe to a Portland public market and set up shop, where she quickly sold seven bags at $4 a pop.
“She had an idea to make some money to help pay for her braces,” her father told The Oregonian newspaper. According to the story, her father had earned some extra money the same way when he was a boy.
Before Madison could sell the rest of her mistletoe, a security guard approached her and said she and her dad were violating a city code and that she needed a permit to sell her goods.
The story went on to say that the guard told the little girl that she could beg for money, but that she couldn’t sell her mistletoe. In fact, he told her she couldn’t even give the mistletoe away and ask for donations.
“We totally understand the rule,” the father told The Oregonian. “But here she was selling mistletoe and all around were people playing music for money, or asking for money for pot, or just spare change. We’re allowing people to beg, but not to sell.”
As you might expect, Madison got a lot of support once news of her squashed efforts surfaced. In fact, she received enough donations to cover her upper teeth in braces and plans to return to the market with her mistletoe to try to cover the bottom teeth on Dec. 14.
It seems there are a lot of folks who feel the same way my friend does. Perhaps they saw this as just another example of the “entitled” society we have become.
“The world owes me and if they won’t give it to me, I’ll demand it.”
For starters, the world owes us squat. The Constitution allows us the right to pursue happiness. How we define happiness and how we then choose to pursue it is up to us.
If you think money will make you happy then you need to find a way to pursue it. Sitting on the couch watching television, or dropping out of high school, or snorting meth probably aren’t the best ways to do that.
Neither is begging, something that even an 11-year-old girl recognized.
I didn’t get much good advice from my father, but I do remember him telling me that he didn’t care what I did, so long as I gave it 100 percent.
If Portland’s city leaders had a chance for a “do-over,” they probably would have cut Madison a little slack. Portland has also become a haven for street bums and you would think they would encourage them to do what little Madison tried to do.
Her father taught her how to fish and all Madison wanted was a place to cast her line.
Unfortunately, our government seems determined to turn this once-proud nation into a society of dependents, waiting for Uncle Sam to toss them a fish. After all, the best way to ensure compliance is through dependency.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.