Having moved to a new city this year, I have encountered more beggars here in the six months than I had all my life. Perhaps because I only used to see individuals in abject poverty once in a while I originally had a much more generous and sympathetic attitude prior to coming here. But my perspective has changed after having been pestered over and over again: I have grown to feel disgusted by merely being approached in the street.
Most of the beggars of this city don’t just sit around and wait for generosity to come their way; they are active. They will approach you and try to stop you in the street. They will hassle you for money and food whether you are busy walking or sitting and eating in a restaurant. They will make noise and try all sorts of antics to get your attention.
In addition, the beggars I speak of are not just the homeless, but all types of individuals wanting to sell you something. Although these people may not be homeless, they are only slightly better off and they still want your money. For example, I’ve had a girl walking around with a pack of gum trying to sell one piece to me. I don’t even know how she’ll sell enough to buy herself a small meal.
Another time, a homeless man started acting friendly to me as if I was an old friend. He started shaking my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder. It was obvious that it was just a ploy to get me to dish out some money. I was irritated by his unwelcomed physical contact. Experiences like that completely eroded whatever humanity I felt for the poor as a collective.
Just the fact that these people see me as a walking wallet also makes me wonder why I or anyone else should even bother helping them out. One woman whom I gave some money to received it with such nonchalant cool that it almost seemed like she was just collecting something that was rightfully hers. She didn’t open her mouth to say anything and didn’t even make eye contact with me because she was too preoccupied with pocketing my money. I immediately regretted it, and it was the first time in my life that I actually felt repulsed for helping someone in need.
But as always with any new worldly experience, there was a lesson or two I was able to learn.
First, I was able to feel what it was like to have constant unwanted attention from different strangers. I used to wonder why women in North America were so cold and dismissive of men for merely trying to interact with them. I really thought they were just arrogant cunts who looked down at everyone else with contempt. I wondered why it was so difficult for them to simply dismiss men in a more friendly manner if they weren’t interested in talking to them. Now I know why.
If you give the beggar even the slightest hope, he will pursue it. And when you know you can’t or won’t give them what they want, you subconsciously learn to avoid giving off subtle cues like making eye contact and appearing open and friendly. You become cold towards them as you don’t even want to acknowledge their existence as soon as you identify them as a beggar. And the one thing that defines a beggar is his desperation. It is a negative energy you can sense around him, that icky and parasitic aura of his.
Another factor is how the constant, forced interactions grinds you down. It is emotionally draining to give your time of the day to try to be sympathetic and nice to people you don’t even know, let alone people who are clearly hungry to get something from you. After having a bad experience with a few, you become more frigid and even hostile when you come across yet another beggar even though it may be the first time that you are meeting him. Experiences from the previous interactions pile up and cumulate so that you treat the new person as though you’ve already been pestered by him many times before, hence the cold and dismissive attitude.
So, that is why women feel so annoyed by all the men who approach them. The men they try to brush off may not be homeless, but they are still beggars in their eyes. Perhaps these women initially enjoyed the compliments and attention they received, but with time and repetition the charade becomes bothersome and outright unwanted. And why? Because of the nature of transaction.
Exchange of Values
The second lesson that was reinforced on me with my experience with the beggars was the nature of transaction. I have no doubt that humans have a natural instinct for trading values. This is how all human interactions and relationships form whether it be commercial exchange or intimacy. And not only do we rationally calculate whether a trade is worthwhile or not, but we also do so at a subconscious level. We can instinctively tell when a transaction is not to our favour. To put it another way, we know when people are trying to take value away from us without offering anything we want in exchange.
To make a successful transaction, you must give value and do it in a manner that is attractive to the other person.
The first part is simple enough. If you have no value to give, or if you’re offering something that is unwanted, you are wasting the other person’s time and emotional energy. The beggars—especially the homeless—obviously don’t have much to offer other than to try to elicit pity in others, which is a sickening emotion to have. This is why street beggars have a very low success rate in making money. The same could be said about the people pushing useless items for sale into your face or all the clueless men trying to make a woman fall in love with them by buying them gifts or by offering murky friendship. You must give value that is worth it for the other person.
The second part is more complicated as it requires social skills and calibration which can only be learned through experience. No matter how good of something you possess to offer, if you don’t present it in a manner that makes the other person want it, you will never be able to sell it. For one, it’s important not to appear too pushy or too desperate. Showing frustration will immediately kill any interest the other party had to begin with. It’s also crucial to be clear about your intention and not to make the other person feel tricked. Businesses today have no ethics and no morals and they play all sorts of psychological games to make their customers buy in. You may find some success doing that in person, but it will not last long. And last, use different approaches that are subtle and noninvasive. If you do the exact same thing as all the beggars before, you are more than likely to get an automatic rejection.
The line between co-operation and exploitation among individuals is blurrier than you think. Whatever opens people to trust and offer their value will be copied by those who want to exploit others for their own gain. And in our modern society where we are all strangers, there are plenty of people who see others as objects to take advantage of. It is no surprise that people in big cities are colder, cynical, and more guarded in their interactions with others. No one wants to be used.
To conclude: don’t be a beggar. It is repulsive and unproductive. Obviously, those who have nothing at all don’t have much of a choice, but those who have something to offer in this world should learn how to give value. Even if you are asking for a favour in which only you receive something, you should do so with dignity. You should also always think in the other person’s perspective, a point Dale Carnegie makes very well in his book, How to Make Friends and Influence People.
Give value to the world and the world will also give in return.