Practicing Non-Judgment, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Contributing in the Real World


As I got out of my car to go make some copies for an important meeting tomorrow, a man with a grey, grown out beard and somewhat ragged clothing raced to open the door for me. I thanked him, and he walked away.  I noted how nice that was but didn't give him much more thought as I went about my business at the copy machine. 

When I left, I noticed the man outside of Starbucks. I was heading that way to pick up a sandwich and couldn't help overhear him talking to others. He was asking people for money. People were responding that they would pray with him but not give him any money.  He said, in somewhat distorted speech, "I can't work."  

As I waited for my sandwich to heat up, I used the restroom and couldn't help continuing to think about this man.  Could he be a drug addict trying to scam?  Could he be a hurting, disabled person who was in need of help? I decided it wasn't my place to judge.  I thought about how I would want to be treated if I were him. I also thought that this would be a good opportunity to practice the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skill of contributing.

So, I grabbed a bottle of orange juice and an egg salad sandwich and told the cashier I wanted to purchase it.  She put them in one of those nice bags with the handles. I walked outside, hoping I would catch him.  He was talking to an older lady, asking her for two dollars. She kept pressing him, "But WHAT will you use it for?"  Somewhat upset and slapping his chest he said, "To take care of business!"

I slowly approached and softly said, "Excuse me."  The two of them turned to me. I continued, "Thank you for holding the door for me. I got you some lunch. Have a good one."  I handed him the bag. He didn't say anything. As I walked away, the woman called out to me, "God bless you!" 

The man chased after me.  He said, "Thank you for the lunch, lady with the pretty smile. I know you just bought this for me, but what I really need is $2 to pay off a debt."  I felt judgment arising. My thoughts jumped to: he's taking advantage of me!  

I noticed this then quickly decided that this was my story, and I was in control over whether I then gave him any money. He hadn't taken advantage of me yet.  (I am not naive either. I know that many people work scams asking others for money.) In DBT, we learn to "unglue" our opinions from facts. The facts were: He looked homeless. He was asking for money. He said it was to pay a debt. He seemed like he may be disabled. I had given him lunch. I was hurt he asked for money on top of this.

I told him that I paid for the sandwich with my credit card and that I don't carry cash. Sorry. I suggested he go sit down and enjoy his lunch outside of Starbucks. He said, "OK. I will. Egg salad," and he smiled. I drove away.

I'll be honest: I did have some cash with me.  Saying no at that point was a part of interpersonal effectiveness.  I feel badly that I wasn't completely honest, and at the same time, I think I handled the situation as best as I could. I wanted to shut down the conversation and not leave any opening for continued attempts to ask me for money.

There is cause for everything, right?  I've learned from past similar experiences that saying I don't have any cash is the quickest way to shut down that conversation.  

At that point, my objective, out of the three in Interpersonal Effectiveness (Objectives Effectiveness, Relationship Effectiveness, and Self-Respect Effectiveness), I was focused on objectives effectiveness: refusing an unwanted or unreasonable request. Yes, I considered it unreasonable for him to ask for $2 after I had purchased him lunch -- but I refrained, as much as possible, from engaging in judgmental thinking about his intentions for the money, my perception that it was pushing limits to ask for money after I gave him the food, and about my unwillingness to give the money and my choice to lie in order to shut down the conversation.

I'm noticing as I'm writing this that I haven't managed to completely forego judgmental thinking. I'm a bit judgmental that I wasn't 100% honest with the man. I lied. I wonder if this was "acceptable," given the circumstances and how the situation would have been different if I had told the truth: "I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable giving you cash."  I could have easily said that as well, but it did not occur to me at the time.  I'm surprised. Maybe I can speak that truth the next time something like this happens.

I know many of you readers are thinking, "She's being too hard on herself!"

I will take solace in the fact that I did act from a kind and loving place, was able to make a small difference, and that I did set a limit when I felt I needed to. 


Thanks for reading.
More soon.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting article.

    I have BPD myself and have had little help other than so called Dr's wanting to shove meds dwon my throat. I told them to stick it and they said no help then.

    I'm still living with it and had some issues of late but determined to beat it someway.

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  2. hey debbie :)
    i dont think you are too hard to yourself. you did great, much better than many other people would even consider to do :) Focus on that, please. I think that "i dont have any cash" is the easiest way out of the situation without risking an "escalation". I'd have said the same because otherwise i would be afraid he'd freak out on me. Later on, i usually feel bad about not giving them money because i think "what's two dollars? you will spend it anyway on mcdonalds or a coffee to go.".

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  3. Debbie,
    I think you handled this perfectly. I have had friends who at some point in their life have been homeless, and they had to live with that stigma of being a drug addict or alcoholic or scam artist. Fact is not all of them are, but unfortunately there are many people who do take advantage of sweet, caring people. Anyone who is truly homeless should appreciate the handout that you offered. Thank you for caring enough to do that.

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