I pulled up beside a man in a brown coat. He was holding a sign that said, “Even a smile helps.” I looked him in the eye and smiled a big smile, pulled over and asked him how he was doing. He looked at me and said, “It could be better and it could be worse.” I reached into my pocket and grabbed the money I had and handed it to him. As I did, another man drove by and in disgust told me I was wrong for helping the man in the brown coat, that he would likely buy drugs or alcohol. I couldn't help but be angered, and I told the gentleman in the car that I didn’t know what he would do with the money and that was his business. He responded with “I wouldn't give him a dime -- sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind,” and drove off.
I have experienced street life first hand through kindness projects I have implemented that allow me to connect with people who are living in hardships. I remember the first sign I made for my kindness project; it simply read, “Here's Your Sign.” It was the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday. I was nervous as we drove down the interstate looking for the perfect spot. I felt sick to my stomach and was afraid of how I would be treated, especially seeing how cruel others can be. However, my sign made a lot of people laugh or respond kindly -- that was my point. A blue car pulled up at the corner I was on and a little boy rolled down his window and gave me some change. He was more than happy to do it, too. A little later, a man and woman called me over to their car and handed me a plate of Thanksgiving food, including a piece of pie. They told me they loved me and to stay safe, and I cried. I had seen them drive by previously and realized they had gone home to heat me a plate of food and driven back to give it to me. However, it wasn't long before three police cars pulled up and told us we had to leave.
My experiences in the streets weren't always so nice. I was spit on and even had trash and water thrown at me, and one man attempted to hit me with his car as he told me I was worthless. Those were hard days. I was not asking for money; I was not soliciting -- I was simply sharing positive messages, in hopes that the ones with signs who needed these messages would get some help, kindness, and compassion. I met many wonderful people out on the streets, and so many of them have really sad stories.
Too many people act out of cruelty, thinking they will help someone to learn a lesson or to do better for themselves. I have played music on the streets for change, out in front of gas stations (with permission), and in empty parking lots. Some people enjoyed it and would donate money or food and drink, while others told us to go get a real job. That one still gets me, as there are so many people that pay to download music or go to concerts – it is a job!
Something I learned is that even when people would respond with cruelty, I would respond with compassion, because you don't know a person's story until you've walked a mile in their shoes. That is exactly what some of this personal experiment was about. I chose to walk in the shoes of others in order to get a better and deeper understanding of compassion. I intentionally skipped my meals and hit the road with one bottle of water to get me through my day. I would spend hours out on the streets, talking to other people out there.
There is no kindness that results from being cruel. Kindness comes from compassion. Help those in need if you can -- even a smile helps and that's the truth. If that is all you have to offer... give it because chances are that person’s already encountered a lot of scowls, and your smile could save someone's faith in humanity or -- better yet -- their life.