Duel of the Fates

The other day I was on the El (that’s “elevated train” for you non-Chicagoans) and I saw an event that beautifully illustrated something I have held true for many years.

As I stood there riding home from work, the door at the end of the moving train car opened and in came a man. He’s a tall, lanky, surprisingly-clean-for-a-homeless-man beggar, who also happens to be blind. In case you didn’t know he was blind, he wears no glasses to cover the fact that his eyes are visibly messed up, swings a white cane around as he shuffles the length of the car (smacking passengers in the ankles as he goes), and the first words out of his mouth, every time, are “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am blind….” The next words out of his mouth are an appeal for lose change as he shakes his paper Starbucks cup. I’ve seen this man many times before, as he does this regularly.

Only this time was different. Rather than the normal silence and occasional donation that accompany this ritual, a smallish woman seated near him speaks up. “Sir, it’s wrong to solicit on the train.” Immediately the man is all outrage: “Ma’am, I am blind, and…” and before he gets out the rest of his sentence, her calm voice responds with an inconsequential piece of information known to every other person on the train: “So am I.”

The man is silent for a moment — he is surprised — and the woman, sitting there with her guide dog at her feet, repeats, “It’s wrong to solicit on the train.”

From that point there was some back and forth; the man wielding indignance like a club, and the woman deflecting his blows — and getting in a few of her own — with her simple, calm words. What hopefully became very clear to anyone who had not already realized it was this: the man is essentially playing an emotional trick on the people from whom he solicits. Blindness is not the reason he is homeless (if he really is homeless — more on that later…), he is the reason he is homeless, but he uses his infirmity to prey on the sympathies of others. The woman was every bit as blind as he, but she had a job, had a home, and didn’t have to cry “poor me” as a means of making a living.

I referred to the fact that the woman was blind as “inconsequential”, as it should be in the circumstances, but in reality it was not… quite. Any person on the train should have been able to call the man on it, but our society has developed such a stigma against judgement that noone dared be seen as attacking the poor helpless victim of blindness. She, however, was exempt from this, because she was in the same boat. She simply refused to be victimized by it, and was annoyed that this jerk was playing that particular sympathy card instead of doing something with his life. She probably spends a lot of time trying to disabuse people of the notion that she is a victim to be pitied, spends a lot of time convincing people that she is just as capable as anyone else, and along come men like this knocking her efforts back by doing the “poor helpless blind man” thing.

She had the right to be annoyed. She had the right to be angry.

This right applies to any member of a so-called “victim group” who refuses to be a victim. Every time a woman insists she deserves respect because she’s a woman, she hurts other women. Every time a black person demands restitution from someone else for something done to someone else by someone else over a century past, he hurts other black people. “Poor me” they cry. It makes my Irish (screwed-by-the-English-for-800-plus-years) blood boil. (And speaking of the Irish, they’ve got one of the best economies in Europe right now. Victim? What’s that???)

For those of you shaking your head in incomprehension that I could have anything against a beggar just trying to get something to eat, I might point out a study from a while back that estimated that some of these people make $30,000 a year. Begging. And I really doubt they’re paying income taxes on that, which effectively makes it closer to $40,000. To quote the bard, “Get a @#%^$ job.” While that clearly doesn’t apply to all beggars, homeless charities also frequently advise people to not give to panhandlers as it most likely supports substance abuse and similar problems. While these people do not directly fall under the category of “false victims” per se, the new social permissiveness that by default makes panhandling “respectable” does help the problem to perpetuate.

I can give similar examples of the sympathy card being falsely played over the years. On the exit I take off the expressway when going home you will commonly find a person standing there with battered cardboard sign begging for money. “Homeless and hungry, please help.” “Oh the poor dear,” you’re supposed to think, “he probably lives under that bridge there.” One night as I pull up to the stoplight there, a pretty nice car pulls up in the left lane. A familiar man gets out of the driver’s seat, and while his wife/girlfriend/sister/whatever slides over to the driver’s seat, he reaches in to the back window and retrieves his battered cardboard sign. As the car pulls away he gets down on his knees and, with a well-practiced change of demeanor, instantly looks as though he’s been there aaalllllll night. The poor man.

A few blocks away from that intersection, there was a man limping along one time with what looked like a long bloody gash on his leg — an open wound. Again with the battered cardboard sign. The careful observer would have noted over the next week or so that that same man was there every day — same sign, same limp, same open unbandaged wound. How does blood stay so fresh-looking for six days? And why didn’t he have gangrene by that point? (Note that there was a hospital less than a mile away that is required by law to help him.)

I once had a black man try to get money from me by arguing, “Now, I know I’m black, but I’m not out robbing houses….” Way to help fight racism… moron. But people who play the “victim card” are not out to help their group, they’re out to line their own pockets. Every one of them, from Jesse Jackson on down. It doesn’t, in fact, matter to them if they set back others in their “victim” group.

There is a difference between facing adversity and being a victim. Losing one’s sight unquestionably makes life more challenging; but it does not make a person a victim, and does not make someone helpless. People in today’s society are always looking for places to place blame — usually on someone else’s shoulders. Turn on the nightly news and you will see them report some terrible event, and then inevitably ask the question, “Who is to blame”? (Shooter kills seven — who is to blame? Um… the shooter maybe?) The problem with that is the reality that everyone faces adversity every day. In the United States especially, you — more than anyone else — are responsible for where you are. You are responsible for who you are; and what you do, for better or worse, is the key to your own fate.

Comments are invited and encouraged

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