I went to confession on Saturday like a good Catholic should. After confession I went to buy groceries. My cart was full of groceries and I had four dollars in my pocket. A woman with a child in her arms accosted me. "Excuse me, I am really embarrassed to ask but my boyfriend and I just had an argument. He kicked me out and I am trying to get to Phoenix...", pleaded the woman.
I gave her a compassionate look and interrupted her, "I am sorry. I'm so sorry."
She looked away and I moved on, loaded my groceries in my car, and left. I felt nothing for her. She didn't register. Other panhandlers have registered with me. I once bought a cup of coffee for a man who was clearly a meth addict. I gave $20 to a homeless man one night who was asking for money for a hotel. There have been numerous other cases. I give generously to organizations that exist for the express purpose to help people in need. This woman didn't register with me and it bothered me that she didn't. Whether or not she was legitimate was one her. Here was a person asking for help and I knowingly refused for some reason.
I went to Divine Liturgy the next morning. I am sexton for my church and stayed after to help stuff envelopes for the upcoming bake sale and perform other duties (as assigned). The other parishioners had left and I used the opportunity to discuss the situation with my pastor. The discussion went on for some two and a half hours. He was a bit animated since he hadn't had a discussion like this since seminary many years ago.
It comes down to being moved by the Holy Spirit. This is something to be wary about since it has most certainly been abused as an excuse to do what one wishes. I was not moved to help this woman. We discussed the possible reasons why.
She crossed a "barrier"; I was at a vulnerable moment. Her story had many holes in it: Does she really have no local friends or family that could help? There's no bus between my town and the one she wanted to go to. She'd never be able to raise the money for a taxi ride that far. Why didn't she go to a church for help? What about the baby?
Yes. The baby. It took us an hour to reach this point:
1) REPHRASE THE NARRATIVE
2) ALTER THE PARADIGM
First point: "I have made very bad decisions in my life. I am reduced to begging and thus have put my infant child in danger. Please help."
Second point: The CHILD needs help. I must call Child Protective Services. They can investigate the situation and find out if she is running from an abusive situation and get her REAL help.
I now know what to do. I can have compassion and TRULY help people while filtering out those who just want a handout. Cash is not the help most beggars really need. They need to be given the tools to elevate themselves out of their situation (I have a plan for that as well). I just need to rephrase the narrative and alter the paradigm.
These two techniques work on other situations as well, especially in politics.