Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What do Four Dollars Mean to You?

I was sitting behind two women on a bus and overheard a brief exchange. One shared an experience she had on the bus the day before. She said that a “homeless person” got on and held out a number of coins in her hand. She told the driver she was homeless and that she only had part of the bus fee. The driver waved her off without her paying. Once she sat down she took out four dollar bills and counted them out. “It’s not right,” the woman told her friend. “The bus ticket was less than $2. She should’ve at least paid something. It's one thing for homeless people to use the train for free, but I don't even think she was homeless.”

Sure, on a purely theoretical level I understood this. The concept of paying for services because that’s what the collective everybody does. But saying that statement out loud, “counted out four dollar bills” and not catching yourself and thinking, wait, is that right?

She counted out four dollars. Four dollars! I’m sure she didn’t wait to put that aside for her mortgage payment or her second installment on a new plasma TV. It also seemed like these $4 made the difference for the passenger being viewed as a person not experiencing homelessness.

The point of me sharing this is not to knock this woman down. In fact, this is an encouragement for us to talk our thoughts out loud. I’m the first to admit I’ve had thoughts that only once I shared them I realized they made much less sense than they did in my self serving brain. Though who knows, maybe this woman was a person who follows the rules absolutely and with no exception and just couldn’t see the perspective of what $4 may mean for someone else.

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