in life

$14.00 and the Way We Look at the World Around Us

Yesterday I made a routine stop at the bank to make a deposit. As I was walking out I looked to my left and saw a man walking toward me and calling out to me, trying to get my attention.

My first inclination when approached by a stranger, a stranger that appears homeless, is to look down, look away, walk faster, and/or totally ignore them.

And I did this, at first. I grabbed my keys, picked up my pace a little bit, ignored him calling out “Young man!” to me – and thought nothing of it. But as he got closer, I looked up and decided to approach this situation differently than instinct would tell me.

I stopped and asked the man how he was doing. His response took me aback:

“I’m dirty. I’m black. I’m tired. And you’re the first person who’s acknowledged me all day”, he said.

It was a kind of brutal honesty that I just, wasn’t expecting. He apologized, many times, before I could get a word in, for “bothering me” – I told him it was no problem and asked him what I could do for him.

He told me that he needed $14.00 to get his birth certificate printed and said he was trying to get a job. He pulled out a business card and his ID to prove that he wasn’t a “criminal” and asked if I had even a couple dollars to spare.

I never carry cash, but almost as if it were a sign, I happened to have $15.00 in my wallet. Without much hesitation I gave him the money, after which he shook my hand, patted me on the back, thanked me repeatedly, and finally, gave me a hug.

While he gave me a hug, he thanked me again, but this time, he thanked me for hugging him. He thanked me for not looking at him like everyone else had been looking at him.

This was the best money I’ve spent in a long time. This felt good.┬áNot a sympathetic-helping-someone-less-fortunate kind of good. But the kind of good you feel when you open your eyes and see something different about the world around you – and maybe more importantly – see something different about yourself.

This encounter, this fleeting moment that took up no more than 60 seconds of my day, reminded me of something my friend Amber said last week:

“Connection is why we’re here. As much as possible today, look strangers in the eye and smile. The woman you pass on your run, the man in the kitchen who prepared your meal, the 9 month old in the stroller. It’ll make a difference in your day and theirs.”

The best thing you can do with your time here on earth is to contribute, in even the smallest way, to something bigger than yourself.

The message here isn’t to hand out money to anyone who asks (hell, I’d be broke if I did). The message is to change your perspective. Shift your attitude. Open your eyes. Open your mind. Open your heart.

You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover about what’s around you, and what’s within, when you start to take a look.

Add Your Voice



  1. homelessness and poverty is actually a sore subject for me since i live in the manila slums and see it every day. my reaction is still similar. the typical american- to look away. i don’t know how to deal, even when its in my back yard. or even when i, myself, am experiencing it. in a way, i am. i keep thinking of my big move to help give back, but wondering when i can feel confident enough about supporting myself beyond the paycheck to paycheck. great post!

    • I think what often holds us back from “giving back” is that we think we have to give A LOT. Instead of thinking about the BIG impact one can have, I like to think about the little things I can do day in and day out that will make a difference. Like most things, it’s all about taking it one step, one deed, one thought, one act, at a time.

  2. PS: I also want to add that I just gave Natalie Sisson’s $100 Change program away to a person. I was doing a giveaway on my blog and I have to say that was the best money I’ve spent in awhile, too!! It’s so much nicert to GIVE!

  3. Working as an EMT was the best lesson in humility and compassion I have ever received. Dealing with all levels of humanity on a daily basis taught me something to remember – everyone has a story. When I see people like the gentleman that approached you, rather than the knee-jerk reaction of passing judgement, I stop and think, “I wonder what happened to him/her to get them to this point?” I wonder what their story is. Everyone deserves kindness, and to be lifted up. Good for you, Matt, for changing your approach. You and the man you helped will remember it for a long time.

    • Everyone DESERVES kindness. I agree. Do I know if my money was actually put to good use? Not a clue…but I know that my intentions were pure, and honestly, simply being able to contribute something to someone else – because I can – because I want to – is good enough for me.

  4. Awesome post. You never know the impact you can have on a person just by taking the time to smile or say hello. You did a good thing for this man, kudos.

  5. Hi Matt,

    I like this post a lot. Your message is simple and clear. Look up. Open your mind. Reminders that we need every day. Thanks a lot for sharing your story to bring those reminders home.

    I talk about something similar on my blog, giving big, because we have more to give than we realize, and it feels great when you do. Here’s one post I thought complemented yours:

    Keep at it! Consider me a new reader.


  6. I think I met the same guy in Detroit. At first I was pleased to hand money to this needy soul. After the 3rd or 4th week of him hitting me up for money it was no longer rewarding, only sad. No good deed goes unpunished.

  7. Nice tale Matt, kind of conveying the sense that it isn’t quite as straightforward as helping everybody all the time. There’s a whole heap of stuff to overcome every time we are asked for help, and I watch myself thinking “why can’t you just help?” But then, when you do help, you feel so much better for yourself and for others.

    Unfortunately I have too few stories like yours, and too many where I looked the other way. Of course, there’s no reason why it has to stay that way, and your story has reminded me of that.

  8. Just today I found out about your blog and I CAN NOT STOP READING THROUGH ALL OF THEM. You are such a talented writer with a beautiful mind! Guess what I just did? I changed my perspective, shifted my attitude, opened my eyes, opened my mind, and opened my heart! I’m passing on your wisdom to others–keep it up!