Last night, at Philosopher’s Cafe, about twenty people gathered at a restaurant, and over glasses of water, tea, coffee and wine discussed ideas relating to benevolence, of what may constitute benevolent acts. Our usual moderator was absent, and in his stead his young 23 year-old daughter established the parameters of the discussion.
Our community is in the throes of trying to deal with an increasing homeless population. The local Salvation Army operates “A Caring Place” where meals and accommodations for short overnight stays are provided, where friendship, care and practical support are extended to people in extremity. A number of homeless people are drug addicted, and it is the fact of their addictions that cause numerous citizens to level criticism against the organization. A main criticism is that such help enables the addicted to continue practising a degenerate manner of living and behaving.
Not many people are willing to give their time to, or suspend judgement and actively perform acts of benevolence toward the indigent. There are a few, one of whom is my friend Rita. Instead of numbing herself with self-entertainment on a Saturday night, she goes down to “A Caring Place”, shares in the performance of maintenance chores, and spends companionable time with people seeking succour there. She also goes about in the town core, seeks out the homeless in their alley hangouts, takes them a hot drink, shares a small snack and sits with them in conversation. Sometimes she is accompanied, voluntarily, by her seventeen year-old son. Her fifteen-year old daughter is nervous about spending time with her mother and brother in this activity, so she declines to accompany them. Rita, calmly goes about her involvement, and performs her acts of what could be “agape”, and expects nothing in return. Her persistent, “dripping water on the rock” method surely, eventually may act to erode resistance on the part of the recipients of her patient ministrations and may result in the small changes that are necessary for persons to be incrementally empowered to modify their attitudes and lives.
The discussion last night hung up on what many percieved as self-interest as an unavoidable component of benevolent acts. The young woman moderator lacked the skill to lead to an examination of the range of motivations which influence benevolent behaviors and actions.
I wish my friend Rita had been there to help the discussion move toward an examination of more provocative ideas. But she declined the invitation to go and take part; she was committed to coursing through the alleys and hangouts to share her generous energy with persons who could most benefit.