Non-Governmental Imagination

What I Learned From Hitting A Homeless Guy
January 12, 2006, 3:09 am
Filed under: Imagination

So, I must admit, it’s a little ironic that a week after starting a blog about nonprofits, NGOs and how they can do a much better helping the world, I hit a homeless guy while biking to work.

I know you’re already thinking that I’m a big jerk. How could you hit a homeless guy! Jerk.

Well, he walked right out in the middle of the street without looking to his left, and while I was swerving around him he sped up to get past oncoming cars and ran right into me. Or maybe I ran into him. Whoever hit who, we both fell down.

He immediately asked me if I was ok, and he apologized profusely. I wasn’t hurt, but I didn’t know what to say. He kept apologizing for a couple of seconds and eventually I asked if he was ok, told him that I was fine and I apologized for hitting him. I asked him if he was ok, he assured me that he was, we shook hands and went on our merry ways.

What occurred to me as I continued biking (without further incident) to work was how I didn’t expect him to be polite. I had this image in my head that anything done to homeless people is mean-spirited, and would be taken as such. But the first thing out of his mouth was an apology and a statement of concern for me.  I didn’t really give him credit for being a good guy, but he genuinely felt bad for hurting me.  We all make mistakes, and the biggest among us recognize them.

A few months ago I was biking to work and I saw a car hit a homeless guy (my commute is always interesting); knocking him and his cart down. I dropped my bike to go help the guy out, but the dude in the car just stayed put. The homeless guy needed help righting his bottle-laden cart, and didn’t seem to be hurt. The driver was very reluctant to get out of the car, and when he finally did, he responded to the events by wiping the broken glass off his hood. Meanwhile, other homeless guys came out of the woodwork, leaving their carts unguarded to help this guy pick up his bottles.

Every person and group makes mistakes. NGOs make plenty of mistakes (there’s no shortage of examples, stay tuned) but they rarely admit them. It’s really unfortunate, because by admitting mistakes and talking about them, everyone could learn how to do things better. The best employees are honest ones, and honesty means recognizing mistakes.

In the non-profit world, there tends to be a distance between those in the climate-controlled cubicles of the head office and the people/species that they are supposed to be helping. Sometimes the biggest screw-ups really wake people up and make them pay attention, thereby causing real change.

So here’s to you, homeless guy. You’re really nice, and I profusely apologize for hitting you and initially thinking that you were a jerk  If you were in charge of things there might be some real reform. Not that I’m advocating hitting homeless people on your way to work.

Note: check out The Homeless Guy, he offers a perspective into homelessness that most people never get.


1 Comment so far
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I totally hear you. When I was an attorney, I volunteered doing tax returns for low-income people. One Saturday morning, the nicest gentleman – dressed in faded denim and construction boots – walked in. He was a contract construction worker, never graduated from high school, could barely read, and just could not make ends meet even though he worked so hard. We ran all the numbers on his return together, and found out that he did not qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (imagine my joy at informing him of that one). He gently asked me, “Isn’t there a tax credit on there for being homeless?”. I was stunned. His address was a P.O. Box at the ‘Y’… We just don’t think about homelessness and the working poor enough – thanks for raising the issues.

Comment by Archana

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