Blog with Joel Brookman


Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

I was leaving a restaurant in a strip mall the other night with my 11- year old daughter and my wife. As we were getting into the car, a poorly dressed woman in her late 50’s approached and asked for $20. I hesitated for a moment and my wife chimed in and offered her our food. She refused the food and I told her I would not give her money. She began to get belligerent and actually spit on my car. I was starting to head back inside the restaurant to tell the manager (the panhandler was standing just outside the back entrance) but I decided not to because my daughter was frightened, so much so that she began screaming at us to leave. I called the manager from my car and let him know what had happened. I wanted to be sure she didn’t harass other customers. In truth, had she not asked me for $20 dollars, I’m sure I would have handed her a couple of bucks. I’m glad my wife interjected by offering food instead, as we got an opportunity to see this woman’s true intentions.

A few days later my wife was back in the same shopping center, a few doors down, walking out of the food market. A man in a wheelchair approached and asked for help. Before he could finish his sentence my wife asked if he was hungry. The man said yes so she offered to get him some lunch. He asked for a turkey sandwich and water. She gladly purchased it and brought it to him. He was incredibly appreciative.

Why do so many generous people refuse to give money to panhandlers? I believe it’s because they don’t want to be taken advantage of. The assumption is that the money given will be spent on alcohol or drugs. That theory, which I recently learned, is not accurate. I saw a study finding that only 25% of panhandlers are alcoholics or drug addicts. In fact, 94% of those interviewed actually used the money to buy food. More than 80% were truly homeless and 26% were military veterans. Knowing that the vast majority of the money collected actually goes to food, and not alcohol or drugs, makes me feel better about their intentions and more apt to help be helpful in the future.

This brings me to the question of intention itself. Are people being nice because they want something from you, or are they being nice because that’s just who they are? How can you really tell someone’s true intentions and whether he is taking advantage of you? This is difficult to know in the moment. In the end, it’s only a matter of time before a person reveals his character and his true intentions are brought to light. You can speed the process by observing how they interact with other people who aren’t in a position to do much for them. How do they treat the person in the mail room, the cashier at the store, or the subordinate in the office? This can help shed light on their intentions.

Resist the impulse to paint everyone with the same brush or jump to conclusions. We are often quick to judge. Too often I find myself reacting on first impressions without considering intentions. I remember this story about a father on the subway, his children crazily climbing over everything. They were being loud, and unruly. The father was disengaged, off to himself, not disciplining them. The passengers, staring at the children and father began making comments, some louder and more critical than others, about both the children’s actions and the father’s inaction. Towards the end of the ride, the father looked up, and commented to no one in particular, “Please forgive my children. We are coming from their mother’s funeral.”

Once you realize a person’s intentions are disingenuous, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. Do something about it. I had a prospective client that I invited to a dinner event at an expensive steakhouse. He decided to order an extra meal (lobster) to take home for his wife. He left before the bill came and I ended up picking up the tab. The next day I called him and subtly let him know that he put me in a difficult situation. I’m pretty sure he ended up doing business with me out of guilt. He went on to become a decent client for many years. Associates let me know that he did the same thing to them. He never again took advantage of me. I’m convinced it’s because I confronted him. It’s no different than the 4th grade bully; pop him in the nose and he’ll find someone else to harass.

Think about your own beliefs and inherent prejudices. We all have them. The difference in character is how you act on them. So, the next time a stranger approaches you, the subordinate in the office walks by, or a family member who gets on your nerves is seated next to you, consider their intentions – and yours – in that interaction. Stay positive and take the high road until they give you a reason not to.



Posted by Joel Brookman in Intention and tagged .


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