On Thanksgiving I was talking with my friend Nancy, who works at Manna Food Bank, about our drive at work to raise money for them. We have a Manna display in front of each cash register and ask customers if they wish to donate. Some of us do it better than others. I do it well sometimes, not so well other times.
It was great to get Nancy, who is so close to the action, talking about where the money goes. She was talking about “food insecurity”. The vast majority of people helped by Manna are not street people – they are working poor who at certain times in the month don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They may have to choose between food and paying a utility bill.
I liked getting a better picture of the issue because I am not all that great at asking for money. When I am “pumped up” (manic), I’m pretty good at it. I don’t take it personal when people say “No” – it just feels good to ask, to feel like I’m doing my part for the cause. When I’m depressed, the “No”s feel punishing – they grind me down. I just don’t have the energy to ask.
My friend Feather who I worked with at another store said of these kinds of drives, “You’ve got to not care whether they give or not.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that – and it has helped me hang in there. But now I think I’m taking it a step farther.
When I am asked to give money – at a cash register, on the phone, or on the street – sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t. I don’t always know why. I’m fortunate enough that usually there is at least a little bit of money in my checking account at the end of the month – I usually could give a buck or a few bucks. It’s not as simple as mania and depression – they don’t directly correlate to giving or not giving. I just know that sometimes it feels right to say “Yes” and other times the only authentic answer i can come up with is “No”.
If sometimes my genuine (healthy?) answer is “No” – and I don’t know why and can’t predict when – then who am I to know what is right for the person on the other side of the cash register? This may be a moment where saying “No” is a truly life-affirming thing for them.
So now when I pump myself up to ask for money for Manna Food Bank, I coach myself with three points:
- Don’t profile them. That skinny little girl who you assumed had no money gave $5. The gruff guy who you assumed would bark at you gave $2.
- Give them a chance to give. Giving feels good. If you don’t ask, you are depriving them of a chance to feel good.
- Get over the idea that you know what’s right for them to do. It’s deeper than “don’t care”. Go ahead and care about them – and want them to do what’s right for them to do. And you don’t know what that is.
For me, the deepest reason for asking is that it gives me the chance to practice humility, to practice not knowing, to practice letting go. There is no deeper life lesson. I don’t want to miss a chance to practice that.