I was on my way to meet an old colleague for some lunch. It wasn’t free: he wanted some advice or some such but, hey, it’s nice to get out. I’d walked Dog, the Textiliste is away so off I set, a summery spring in my step.
At the station there’s this chap – Jeremy – who’s been homeless for a long time and has recently found somewhere, sorted out his benefits and is making progress in his life. Over time I’ve given him some change, the odd coffee and cake (natch). I stopped and passed the odd word and dropped a few round nothings in his cup.
A woman, I haven’t seen her before, caught my eye as I turned away. ‘You shouldn’t give them money,’ she told me. Helpfully, of course. Maybe she saw my expression because she added, ‘They’ll spend it on drugs or… whatever.’
And with that bit of advice she spun away and went about her day. Maybe she felt good, pointing out my failings, hoping that in future I’d act more correctly. I suppose it’s possible she was genuinely worried for Jeremy’s well-being and here I was leading him into temptation with one pound and not a lot. It might have been good to find out why she felt the way she did, perhaps test the merits of her views.
After all, this happens occasionally. She isn’t the only helpful one. A week or so ago, near Waterloo I was doing the same thing, passing a moment with someone crouched in a doorway, asking if they were ok and emptying some loose change into their coffee cup when a similar opinion was proffered but in this case the man – be-suited, my age-ish – told me if I really wanted to help someone I should give to Syria. He didn’t wait to debate the merits of direct support for our own homeless against funding a multinational operation and what might have the biggest impact and on whom.
I suppose it’s probably as well they both left me with their opinions since the debate might have been something like this:
Man/woman: ‘You know, you shouldn’t give to beggars. They’ll waste it/it’s better spent on real poverty in Syria.’
‘That’s an interesting view. Do you have a moment to debate it?’ ‘Fuck off. Who asked you?’
Let me say two things first. One, I did take exception to the woman describing Jeremy as ‘them’ like he wasn’t there. Two, both of them might have been right: Jeremy might spend the money on something egregiously unwholesome; the poor souls suffering after umpteen years of war and terror in Syria need all the help they can get and, by contrast, even Jeremy’s situation is dozzy.
The point that really bugs me is how they felt it ok to share their opinions with me. I am all for free speech; stand up and pontificate on the merits or otherwise of helping beggars. But this is different. This is aimed directly at me. What I was doing, I would suggest, impacts them not at all. Maybe they’d argue it keeps people begging if the likes of woolly minded liberals like me keep giving them change and if I stopped then the beggars might go away – though that just pushes them somewhere else; it’s not stopping the begging. But really they were just sharing their unasked for opinions.
This is an example of people who ‘only speak the truth’ or ‘their mind’ or similar such excuses for unbridled bollocks that people who can’t keep their opinions to themselves spout.
I like truth, don’t get me wrong but I’m personally not so wedded to it that I want it offered up, undiluted and unalloyed all the time. It has its place but so does discretion, empathy, tact, understanding, all of which can be helped by shading the truth, limiting it and sometimes not telling it. Yep, sometimes a lie, pure, undiluted and deliberate is the nicest, fairest, kindness and most human thing to do.
So yes, if I ask your opinion, I’m big enough and smelly enough to take whatever that opinion is. But if I don’t ask for it, don’t give it to me. And even if I ask for it, think about how it might impact, not just me but all those around us and decide, you know, is it really worth it?
Lunch was lovely by the way. I think I helped but time will tell and it was grand to reminisce. And Jeremy? He’d gone when I got back. Probably to the bookies to put a couple of quid on England for the World Cup.
And because I haven’t anything suitable here are a few pictures of Dog.