Celebrate the season of giving

By Jennifer Joyner

Anyone who follows national news saw the photo that was circulating last week of the New York City police officer giving shoes to a man on the side of the road who appeared to be homeless. The officer walked by the man on a cold night and saw that he was barefoot. He then went into a nearby Sketchers store and purchased a pair of $75 winter boots with his own money. The officer was not looking for recognition. In fact, no one would have never known about the kind act if a tourist had not snapped a photo when he knelt down to help the man put the boots on. The picture quickly went viral, and the story behind it inspired people across the nation.
This week, the New York Times reported the man was seen barefoot again shortly afterward. He said the boots were hidden away because they were too expensive. He was quoted as saying, “I could lose my life.” He also said he knew the photo had been featured in the national media and that he wanted his “piece of the pie.”
A few days later, the Daily News reported the man was not really homeless but has an apartment secured by the Department of Veterans Affairs and has turned down help from many sources, including his family. Also, the New York Post reported the man has a history of crime, including charges involving drugs, harassment and theft.
These developments are disheartening. To many, it’s such a let-down after their faith in humanity had been restored by the inspiring story. Some might see this as a cautionary tale. They might “tsk, tsk” and say there’s a reason these people are homeless, and we should let professionals take care of them. I disagree, and my faith in humanity has not wavered.
The fact that this particular act of kindness might have been lost on the individual does not take anything away from the fact that it was done. I haven’t heard the reaction of the police officer to the developments in the story, but I suspect he will still be glad he did it.
I think it’s always best to err on the side of kindness. We all could find ways to be kinder to others. Christmas puts us all in a more generous mood, I think. I wanted to compile here a collection of random acts of kindness, so I turned to Google and found list after list. They all seemed pretty obvious, though, and nothing really stood out to me except the sentiment that was the underpinning for all of them: Be aware of other people’s needs and wants. Care for others, and do things to lift them up and not to gain recognition. Be bold in your appreciation of life around you.
That last one is something I want to work on. I look at people who have such a generosity of spirit. They are just a ray of sunshine. I have a great appreciation for my blessings and the people around me, but don’t always have the confidence to express it. I want to work toward letting go of my self-centered fear and give more of myself to others. The best gift we can give is to treat people well.
It’s not just what we do for others; it can also be what we refrain from doing. It seems to me that it has become completely socially acceptable to call someone stupid, ugly, incompetent, crazy, weird, fat, annoying, gross, etc. — as long as you say it in a whisper or wait until the person about whom you are speaking has left the room. We’re all guilty of it at times, but some are much more unapologetic than others.
I remember one evening, when I was working at a restaurant in Fayetteville; a friend was going on and on, gossiping about our co-worker. All the while, the girl she was talking about was just across the room. I stopped her to tell her the girl was right there, and that I thought she could hear us. My friend didn’t bat an eyelash. “Oh, she can’t hear us!” she said, continuing the gossip session. Meanwhile, the girl was staring at us. She looked so sad. I felt awful. I just know she heard what my friend was saying.
I have been in this sort of situation many times and am always shocked by the flippant way people act about it. If there is a chance you might hurt someone’s feelings, why continue? Sure, you think they can’t hear you, but why risk it?
Even if they don’t hear you, there is still a good chance they know you are talking about them. We’ve all gotten that vibe before. And if you ask me, it doesn’t feel good. Why would anyone want to unnecessarily make a person feel that way? Are the benefits of griping to a friend to make yourself look or feel better really worth the risk of hurting someone?
Some people have unflappable confidence and couldn’t care less what others think. I think that’s why some of the kindest people I know — people who would never purposefully hurt a fly — participate in gossip. It’s probably difficult for those people to understand why what they think would affect someone. But some people are much more vulnerable.
You never know what’s going on with someone on the inside. They might be going through terrible things at home or have psychological or emotional problems. They might feel that no one loves or accepts them. Don’t those people need comfort and compassion more than they need ridicule?
So, this Christmas season, let’s lift each other up. Let’s look for the positive in the people around us instead of looking for things to criticize. It’s a pretty wonderful life, so let’s just “live and let live.”

Jennifer Joyner is a reporter for The Saline Courier. She can be reached at jjoyner@bentoncourier.com.