Genuine Compassion: Work-Self & Real-Self

First, watch this video:

Genuine Compassion: Work-Self & Real-Self

By: Elizabeth Bower

Working for or with a company that leads with compassion is something I would aspire to be a part of.  There are many companies and people who are only compassionate for egotistical or material gain. The recipe Chade-Meng Tan says to create a compassionate company makes a lot of sense.  However, it makes me wonder if the ingredients are even possible with people who are NOT compassionate in their everyday life or personal life.  This thought reminds me of a time when I saw a lack of compassion from my community which made me question many aspects of humanity.  Would the people in this story be able to help a company build a compassionate company?

The sign read “Help, need money, live in car.” This was held by a Hispanic adult male, approximately 40 to 45 years of age, accompanied by what looked like his teenage son. They had the appropriate attire for the weather and looked bathed.  I didn’t judge if they were hungry because hunger is something that can always be seen. Someone’s last meal isn’t external.  I noticed the “car” they wrote about, off in the distance. It was an older van with faded paint and some dents. From where I was I couldn’t tell how ‘lived-in’ the van truly was.

Immediately upon seeing the man and his son, I felt embarrassment for them. I thought about how the man must have felt having to beg for money in front of his son. How it must feel to hit bottom and have to resort to panhandling. Their faces wore nothing sad or embarrassing, but perhaps they were used to struggling and having to ask for help from strangers.

My son, who was three-years-old at the time, and I were getting into our car which was about 20 spaces down from the people holding the sign.

My son asked as I was putting the car in reverse to back out of the parking spot, “What are those mans doing? What is that piece of paper in those man’s hands?”

“They are holding a sign that says they need money,” I told him.

“Why?” This age-appropriate question was asked multiple times a day.

“Because, some people don’t have money to buy things, like food. Isn’t that really sad?” I said as I was digging through my wallet after cueing up in a line of cars.

This seemed to be a simple occasion in teaching your child generosity.  Instead, it just felt so sad.  The sadness didn’t lie within the man and his son or their situation. The true sadness came from being in a car line, exiting an evening church Mass, a Mass where the gospel and the homely were literally about generosity.  All those I could see and watch, hopped into their luxury cars to head to their beautiful houses and drove past the man and his son without even a glance or a smile. Something tells me the majority of those leaving the church could afford to give more than a dollar or at least have given coins from the hidden cup within their dash.

After I gave the father and son money through my car window, the man said thank you and wished us blessings. I saw one other car behind me reach out their window to contribute. As my car approached the exit I could see both of them walking back towards their beat-up van at the end of the parking lot. At that moment, I no longer felt embarrassed for them, I was embarrassed for us, the community, and humanity.  I am not sure how a large group of people leaving a church, after having worshiped together in solidarity, could be so dissonant when the beatitude of kindness and generosity are laid before them.  Maybe, all those people spent all of their hard-earned cash on those luxury cars and beautiful homes, leaving nothing left for those who are looking for their next meal or their next place to sleep and bathe.  Or, maybe they were angry the father didn’t work hard enough, like they did, to provide for his family, even though the circumstances of how they came to panhandling will never be known.  I would like to be confident in saying it had nothing to do with their race, but in a predominantly Caucasian church and town, my heart said otherwise. Most aren’t deliberately bigoted, but rather inherently so. No matter my speculations, it’s hard to regain that sliver of faith in people which was lost on that beautiful day.

I once told a friend about the man and his son and the underwhelming response directly after a mass focused on generosity. They asked, “What if they really didn’t need money and they were just trying to see what they could get?” It’s possible they took the money and went shopping for lottery tickets or TVs while laughing at how stupid we givers are.  We need to ask ourselves: are we genuine in our generosity or are we following the notion of giving to satisfy our own egos.  If we are judging the level of ‘neediness’ of others by their appearance, by how they ask for help or by relying on our assumptions it makes us the ones who are truly in need, in need of a heart.


Tan, Chade-Meng. Everyday Compassion at Google [Video]. YouTube.            https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=847&v=yTR4sAD_4qM

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