Emotions of Giving and Not Giving

Some of our deepest emotions are associated with giving. I can remember two extreme situations associated with giving and not giving that I will always remember, because the emotions associated with them were so intense at the time.

The first is about giving. I have this personal rule to give a dollar to a panhandler when I pull up next to one in my car holding his “Hungry, Please Help” cardboard sign. I keep a stash of one-dollar bills in my car just for that purpose. To that effect, I remember the day I rode my bicycle in San Diego on the 21st birthday of my daughter. This was over 9 years go. I had a quiet private day of celebrations. It was a Sunday, and I went for an afternoon bike ride. I came across a middle-aged female panhandler on a street corner holding up a sign. Being on a bike, I could not easily stop and rummage through my pouch to find a dollar, so I coasted past her. I didn’t get very far before I realized that in order to celebrate my day, I really should give her some money. So I pulled over, found my wallet and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. I wanted to make a difference for her that afternoon. I turned around and looped back, so I could pass her again. She probably didn’t even notice it was my second time, but this time I was ready. I slowed down to a walking pace, held out the bill in my right hand, and gave it to her. I never stopped or looked back. When I came back the same way 15 minutes later she was no longer there.

I still remember giving that twenty more than giving anything else specifically. It was a good day, and giving more than normal under the circumstances just felt really good.

The next memory is about not giving. Recently it was girl scout cookie season. I love girl scout cookies. Sometimes a colleague, who has a daughter in scouts, brings a stash to the office, and I always buy some. I also buy them in front the supermarkets, when the girls sell them. My favorite are the Samoas, but I would buy any of them. I believe in girl scout programs.

A few months ago, on a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, I fell asleep reading on the living room couch. It was one of those deep sleeps that results in disorientation. When that happens to me, it takes a little bit of time to wake up before I can function normally again. Suddenly the door bell rang. Our door bell never rings. I almost didn’t register it, but then I got up and stumbled to the front door and opened it. I was half-way still in slumberland. A little girl, maybe six years old, greeted me with a big smile: “Do you want to buy some girl scout cookies?” About six feet behind her stood her mother, next to the pull cart with the wares. Befuddled, and not really comprehending the situation in my sleep, I simply said: “No!” and started closing the door again. I remember seeing the dark shadow falling quickly over the girl’s face, and I saw her mother’s disappointment in me in her eyes, all in a one quarter second moment after my “No!”

The door was closed, and I ambled back to the couch to proceed with the task of waking up, when it hit me. I had just so “not made” this girl’s day. I had been incredibly rude. The little girl didn’t know I was asleep. The mother didn’t know. I felt like running after them to apologize. I went out to the garden gate and looked, but they had already moved on, one direction or the other down the street, by the time I was collected enough, with some cash in hand, for my quest for girl scout cookies.

I hope she has long forgotten me, but I’ll probably never forget the dark, disappointed look of rejection on the little girl’s face.

And that’s what I have to say about the emotions of giving or not giving.