As I walked by Marsh Plaza on a sunny Friday, I focused on the paper I had to write for this coming Monday. It’s pretty short, so it shouldn’t be too hard to write….I wonder what 100 Bay State has for lunch today? I hope it’s not anything sweet and sour. And when should I figure out what our plans are for tonight? So many important thoughts to be thought…
That night, I got an earful from my friend, who apparently had been yelling my name repeatedly when he saw me near Marsh. I hadn’t heard a thing. “Where were you?” I asked. “I definitely didn’t see you…”
“I give Free Hugs every Friday! You know, the kids with the NEON posters.”
No wonder I never looked his way. I’ve noticed I’m not the only one either; hardly anyone even glances at the Free Hugs group. But why? It’s not like they want anything from us; in fact, they can’t be construed as ill-intentioned in any way. So why do passers-by put blinders on?
I don’t know, but I suspect those same blinders enable me to walk by a homeless person without giving him change. (For more thoughts on what motivates us to give, read Mike’s article about What To Do With Melvin.) With homeless people, I can make better excuses for not paying them mind: they’re lazy, they’d just spend it all on drugs, they might ask for more than I can give. But I know these are just excuses because I ignored my Free Hugs friend too, and for the same reason: I just don’t see them anymore. It’s a filter specially-made for Being in Public Places.
It took me a while to craft this filter, I think. I remember walking in New York when I was little, and wishing I had change to give every homeless person I saw–especially the one under the scaffolding by my cousin’s building. The construction is long-gone now, and I have no idea where the man went. But I still remember feeling a sharp twinge of sympathy every time I saw him. Today, instead of sympathy, I’m sure I’d feel guilt if I dared to look him in the eye.
So the filter helps me avoid guilt when it comes to homeless people, but I still can’t figure out how it protects me from the potential perils of a friend’s hug. Maybe I was better off as a filter-free toddler. Maybe a little change is a small price to pay to keep my eyes open.