In 2012, I spent my summer in San Francisco. I was working for an awesome tech company and loving everything that the San Francisco culture brought. This was also my first real experience with seeing homeless people on a consistent basis. For the first few days when I would ask for money, I would reach into my pockets and pull out some change. However, after about a week this became a nuisance and I began to look the other way and walk past the homeless. This did not sit well with me, I would walk past and feel bad about it.
I wanted to help but whether I gave money or walked by it just didn’t feel quite right. I decided that I would give the homeless person the money they asked for and then in exchange I would ask them for a Joke. This worked for some people and I got some funny Jokes, my favorite being
What do you get when you cross an elephant and a Rhino? Elep-hino(Say it out loud)
Some people had a hard time coming up with a joke so instead I asked them for a piece of advice. The reactions I got from people when I asked for advice were incredible. So powerful that I stopped asking for a joke and only asked for advice.
The moment I knew I had to keep doing was after an interaction with a man sitting outside a gyro shop I was going to. Before I went in I told him that I would give him some change when I came out. When I came out I gave him some change and ask him for his name and some advice. The man got onto his feet, shook my hand and in tears he looked into my eyes and said
Man that is how you give…that is how you give.
I will never forget the power of his words and how a small act of generosity created an amazing experience for both of us. What I ultimately found out was that by asking for advice It was no longer a one way exchange. I no longer saw myself as above the homeless person, but instead as an equal, as a human being. The interaction and advice I get from these people is worth way more than the dollar I give to them.