Ruminations of a Red Dirt Hussy

November 19, 2011

“Got dang it, Bobby!”–’tis still the season

Filed under: Blogroll — Vadasmaker @ 4:49 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Any time between—um—say Halloween and Christmas eve, I go to the mall or the pharmacy or the grocery store and see the familiar red kettle hanging there. Am I going to put something in there? You betcha. On the way in and on the way out. Because I’m a good person. And the kettle is legitimate. I’ve seen it on TV, so it must be. I can even get a receipt for my donation if I want.

At the bank I come upon an Angel Tree, a setup in which a person takes a name—or five—from the tree and, sometime before Christmas, brings back wrapped presents for that person, most often a child. That’s another legitimate cause. It’s got the name of a big department store attached to it. They’ve never screwed anybody. OK. That was just sarcastic. But I can be relatively certain that my actions and money are going to light up somebody’s life, if only for a day.

On the way home, I stop at a red light at the end of an exit ramp, and there sits somebody with a sign” “Will work for food.” Like many people, I avoid the sign-holder’s eyes, looking instead for the luxury van waiting to pick him up when he’s finished his shift. I drive away without parting with so much as a dollar, feeling a bit guilty but rationalizing that the next person who stops will give him money.

Why didn’t I give the man money, since I didn’t have a turkey dinner to throw at him? I had it to give—money, not a turkey dinner. But I had food in the pantry and heat in the house and gasoline in the car. I needed absolutely nothing, and the five dollars I didn’t give him I would most likely spend on Five Hour Energy—hey. I don’t want to hear it—or diet soft drinks—I still don’t want to hear it.

I might be showing off what scant good sense I possess. However, what I really think is that we live in a suspicious culture. We walk around every day waiting for someone to scam us, put one over on us, get something he or she didn’t work for. We work. Why doesn’t everyone? This is the land of the free, the home of the brave. I mean, come on people, pull yourselves up by the bootstraps. Get out there and make something of your life.

I never thought of myself as having a suspicious nature, and by that I mean I’m like a goose–I wake up in a new world every day. I rarely expect someone to lie to me, steal from me, cheat me. Should I? TBL says probably. But I don’t. Maybe I didn’t get the memo. But then, I didn’t get the memo rescinding Jupiter’s planet status, either. Still, I know we have to exercise caution, which I do, usually, and I’ve kicked my own butt more than once because I didn’t.

However, I’ve noticed in my students—college freshmen—a certain lack of empathy. Oh, not totally. They’re great kids. Many, many of them participate in church mission trips, going places I wouldn’t go even if I could get cowboy boots for a nickel. But when it comes to the truly dirt poor, the homeless, victims of hate crimes, downtrodden minorities, people as unlike them as possible they, like many people, care less, understand less, empathize less. In their world, want- to ought to be enough.

Nicolaus Mills wrote an article in Dissent (Summer 2004) called “Television and the Politics of Humiliation,” in which he postulates that reality shows such as American Idol, Survivor, Average Joe, The Apprentice, Joe Millionaire, and others, have and are cultivating a culture of humiliation in America. We watch, he says, not to cheer on the winner, but to see the loser humiliated (Think Simon Cowell. Bless his heart). Mills says that what this teaches us is that there is no room in this world for empathy. The bottom line is not “he’s my brother,“ but “show me the money,” no matter how humiliating the earning of that money will be.

My point is not that we should hand out money or goods willy-nilly, but to do the good we can with what we have to work with. Are we going to get scammed? Sometimes. Will the little we give go toward liquor or drugs? Yeah. Sometimes it will.

But here’s the deal: Do what you can, because in the end it isn’t what someone did with the money that counts, but why you gave it.





  1. These precious young people will determine the direction of the nation soon, and so, the course of the entire planet. In a smaller context, these are the people who will be taking care of our generation when we can no longer pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, something we’ve managed to do just fine without their help so far, thank you very much. I consider it absolutely critical that we educate them as to what’s truly important, before they’re allowed (and it will be a privilege, at least in my case) to change our diapers, or even to decide that we deserve diapers. By my calculations, we have approximately 40 years, tops, to get this job done; if I don’t see noticeable improvement by then, I’ll cancel my own ticket. But here’s a secret. Even though I really am worried, and in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I believe deep down that all people will eventually arrive at a place of honoring the divine in each other. Why do I believe? Because the divine in me recognizes the divine in them, covered up as it is with its selfishness, elitism, and sense of entitlement. And as long as I can still see a glimmer of that divine anywhere, I’ll continue to believe. Even so, a good exit plan seems prudent.


    Comment by Michelle Harris — November 19, 2011 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

  2. I used to drive my mother (may she RIP) wild when I gave money to one of the downtrodden. Even if I just gave one of them a coat, she’d say, “Now you know he’ll just go sell that and get a bottle of booze, or pills. YOU work for your money; why can’t HE work for his money?” My answer was always the same, and it still is when people question me: It’s the spirit in which it is given and not the spirit in which it’s received that is important.


    Comment by Gloria Teague — December 10, 2011 @ 12:12 pm | Reply

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