How do you give to somebody without taking away their dignity? This is a question I've been asking my self all summer, but have yet come to a conclusion on. It started immediately before the Oregon teen conference. We had stopped at a rest stop on the way. It was literally in the middle of no where, with nothing but a bathroom and a parking lot for miles. There was a woman sitting outside the bathroom.
She was squatting on a box with a Cain in her hand a bag of her things next to her. At first I didn’t notice she was homeless. The worst part of me would like to think of homeless people as crazy and desperate, but this woman was calm and dignified. Looking back, its made me think about how even people who try to be understanding can be just as susceptible to stereo typing. I went up to her to give her five dollars and she said "god bless you" to me. I couldn’t bring myself to even look her in the eye and smile.
She then looked down. I didn’t know why, but I suddenly felt ashamed, like I had done something wrong. That's when I realized my mistake. In giving her the money I had belittled her as a person by not interacting with her dignifiedly. I then started feeling the same feeling while I was working with youth. But instead of looking down like the woman had, these youth either refused my help, or were disrespectful. I watched tons of other youth advocates and professionals do the same, before I finally realized that it was exactly the same as with the homeless woman.
When someone else or I was offering the help, it wasn’t completely on a level of understanding or kindness, it was a product of guilt, misperception and social obligation. For someone to accept help from a source like that would be to admit that they were at a low enough point that they would need to sacrifice their dignity. There is such a strong perception of people who are needy, broken, troubled and dependant, that to accept the help is like accepting the stereo type.
Giving isn’t as easy as just handing it over. It's a complicated game of pride that often makes it so nobody wins. I'm not exactly sure how to give without taking from somebody just yet, but I suspect that the trend of humility that follows most humanitarians, is'nt just a trend, but a product of good service packaging.