This inquiry is the equivalent of a DJ clearing a crowded dancefloor by playing the wrong song.
The intention is to be intellectually and emotionally honest and confront the uncomfortable questions.
The 15ish-year-old girl stood on the median at the red light. The black letters on the cardboard read, "Need help for sick family." She was lovely; black hair pulled back from her face, dressed like any other girl pulling books from a school locker. But, here she stood, not moving, eyes tethered to the ground.
She is only a couple of years younger than my daughter. I have known financial distress and endured the shame. How will this experience color her life and the lives of those that sent her out the front door?
Does she know what she is doing and just playing me as a sucker? Is there really a family member back at home, contorting in pain, counting on her ability to get a few bucks? If she is really in need, is there someone behind me that will demand more in exchange for those required few dollars?
My heart screams "change your plans, empty the wallet and bank account, give her a hug, affirm her value as a human and need to reject the shame, return her to the sick family and coordinate medical care and resolve other outstanding issues."
I am relieved that this one time, my cupholder is void of the $6.50 latte. The light turns green, and I turn to finish the last half mile to church. Once inside, I pray for God to help her. My list of buts is wholly unsatisfying, and my hypocrisy is a crushing weight.
How do you respond when presented with these opportunities to help? What are your rules of engagement? When do you stoop to look someone in the eyes or give a few bucks? How do you explain this situation to the kids in the back seat?
One friend keeps plastic bags with water, granola bars, and a few other items, in the car, for just this kind of situation. Some will buy food, but not cigarettes or alcohol. Others, respond with aggression and offense to being asked.
We can't sanitize the rest of our lives from meeting those in need, and there isn't a global plan to solve all problems. Inquiring of our own souls to know who stares back in the mirror is doing the required heavy lifting.