Photo from: www.humiliationstudies.org
Part of the definition of “dignity” is this: Bearing, conduct or speech indicative of self-respect. Many – and I would guess most – of us take this for granted. We know who we are, we are comfortable with ourselves and we have enough confidence in our actions, relationships and standing in life to get by, if not ahead.
This is not the case for many of the tens of thousands of chronically homeless people living in America today. And that’s where you come in.
Horace McKenna, S.J., was one of the greatest social justice workers of the 20th century, and probably the greatest man I had ever had the honor to meet. My mother volunteered for Father McKenna at St. Aloysius Gonzaga parish in Washington, D.C., and I occasionally accompanied her on volunteer outings to So Others Might Eat, a soup kitchen, clinic and jobs center that Father McKenna founded.
One day we were discussing the homeless, and another volunteer raised the oft-heard argument that it is irresponsible to give money directly to homeless people on the street because “they will only spend it on booze or drugs.”
Father McKenna, in his quiet, deliberative way, responded, “It’s good to give them a dollar or two when you can. Just having that money, even for a little while, gives them a little bit of dignity.”
He knew better than I did that what it takes to really build and maintain dignity, but his point was this: A homeless man or woman, with a few dollars in his or her pocket, can walk into a store or get on a bus or go into a movie theater and feel, if only for a moment, on equal footing with all the other people in that space.
So now, perhaps, a loaded question: Do you give money to homeless people or others in need? Why or why not?
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