A program of The Mussar Institute 

Generosity Week
February 21 – 26, 2016

Generosity Week

Generosity Week – Day 5

Emily Fox: “A Soul Named Carl”

Homeless people stand on the corner where my bank is, asking for money. While working on the middah of generosity last year in my Chaburah class, I took on the practice of giving them money. One day, I saw a man with long blond hair jauntily walking up and down the sidewalk. I thought, “This person is fairly well dressed and doesn’t really look like he needs money,” but I gave him a dollar. To my surprise, he looked me in the eye, said thank you and proceeded to bless me. I got a very good feeling.

Emily FoxThe next day the same man was standing on the corner. My yetzer hara started up. “Oh no, it’s the same guy, I bet he’s a drug addict.” (I had been told by an acquaintance familiar with the homeless community that many drug addicts stand on this corner.) But I gave him another dollar. This time he mumbled thanks. I felt taken advantage of, and I wondered if this was the best use of my money.

The next time I went to the bank, the young man with long blond hair was standing on the corner AGAIN. He had a sign but I couldn’t read it, so I said hello and said something like “I see you standing here a lot.” He opened up and shared his story with me. He told me his name was Carl, and he was 27 and had been in a motorcycle accident and did not have the money to get therapy and that he was in pain a lot and could not work. We talked a while longer and I found out that he indeed had very few options. He admitted that part of it was his attitude and that he was depressed, but that he was working on that. I encouraged him and said I hoped things would improve for him. He seemed to appreciate my concern.

He said, “I think of standing on this corner as my job.” As I saw his situation through his eyes, my heart opened up. A few minutes of conversation made the difference between seeing him as vaguely threatening (is he a con man? a drug addict? lazy?), to seeing a person with a name, for whom I wished good things.

Since that day, I look forward to the times when I see Carl, so I can say hello and hear how he’s doing. Sometimes, when I see panhandlers, the thought of “Will this money be used for food or alcohol?” goes through my head, but I remember Carl and wonder what soul is standing before me that I am not recognizing.

  • Reach out to someone to share something. Do you find your feelings toward that person change with your act of sharing?
  • As you think of sharing, do you hear a story in your head about the person you see before you? Where does that story come from?
  • When you share with someone, notice their response. What feelings does their response invoke in you?
  • Try two small acts of generosity. One time, speak with the recipient, share your feelings of concern, empathy or kindness. The other time, give without interacting. Compare the two experiences. What have you learned?

Please share your thoughts on The Mussar Institute’s Facebook page. If you prefer a more private experience, join our Generosity Week Facebook group.