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Response to a Chain Letter

I don't do chain letters. When I got one from a good friend who thought it might move me, I did not pass it on. It had the usual chain letter thing at the end, send it to five of their friends to make their day. The story didn't move me to tears and make me want to join a church. It scared me.

There's this person probably living in a middle class house, probably never been financially strapped beyond running out of pocket money and outgrew that. The one and only time in her life that she helped out homeless men with their breakfast floored her. She'd never actually done anything like that before. Then when she does, she gives them a sermon. If they were Christian, that's great, it takes the edge off it being patronizing when she credits God for it.

But if they're not, it's something they smile and put up with and lie through their teeth to get a meal. And she thinks it's so wonderful and rare that she's got to turn it into a chain letter. Is she actually going to start making a habit of it?

Is she making such an enormous sacrifice by smiling at people who smell bad because they don't have access to a shower? She could have invited them over to let them shower, put their clothes through the washing machine, hired them for work around the house.

Real generosity would've been "I've got a basement that really needs sorting and cleaning out. I'll give you $10 an hour and you can get first pick on the yard sale items if you take the job. It's sweaty work, so if you want, you can use the shower and washing machine while you're over here."

The greatest gift you can give a homeless man is work. They are driven by the same work ethic as most Americans and the custom of "blame the victim" runs so deep that they get shamed all the time. The reactions of everyone in McDonalds in the story was typical, they stared at the letter writer in shock and the homeless men in disgust.

The letter writer, having given them one meal rambles off into telling the world about how very very Christian she is and show off. She got her money's worth for those breakfasts. For the price of holding her nose and remembering a religious custom she can now establish herself as a Good Person to thousands of people she doesn't know, friends of friends of friends.

There isn't even a call to action to do the same thing. The call to action is to pass on the chain letter, read about it and turn Christian. This is the flavor that makes Christian Brand Charity such a humiliating process. Oh, and they were obviously white homeless men. She didn't react that way to the scary black homeless men, if they even dared to come into that McDonalds.

For me it's every day. If I'm not broke, whenever I see a homeless person in my neighborhood I share a buck or so, sometimes more if I'm flush. I've skipped my snack because an old black man in a wheelchair asked if I had any change. "No, but I've got a dollar." I get out my wallet and give him a dollar. I don't stop at the Paradise because it was budgeted for my snack. I know that this is my turn, I'm paying it forward. I grin at him and say "I been there, I've only been on Social Security the past five years."

Sometimes they thank God. I smile like a Unitarian and don't preach at them that I'm doing it for Goddess or as a secular humanist. They've got enough troubles without a lecture about religion. I don't lecture anyone on that because it's their lives and their soul. I don't know what religion means to them, I could be spitting on their lifeline if I do. I only know what it means to me and what it feels like to endure religious spam when I'm starving.

Instead I just ask how they're doing, wish them luck, if I've got time (and I usually do) open up a conversation. Give them a break and some real social contact. Some of the people panhandling in my city aren't even homeless. They live on benefits, can't quite make ends meet and pick up that little extra that lets them eat all month instead of just when the check comes in. Others are so isolated living in SRO housing that panhandling becomes a way to meet people and a reason to get out of their rooms.

Sometimes they talk to me about life, about benefits or about how San Francisco was so awesome in the sixties and the seventies. They've been here all along and they fall through the cracks. There's nowhere to go if they're on general assistance or if they're waiting for Social Security or waiting for a pension.

They see where I live and tell me where the food banks are. We're all the same community. The generosity of the blue eyed man in the story toward his mentally impaired companion is common. That's like me and my neighbors in the SRO. Occasionally someone knocks on my door and asks if I have any food. I'll share, because I've gotten good enough at shopping and budgeting to have enough bulk stuff around I could spare something for them.

Then sometimes I'll meet someone in the hall asking "Do you want a loaf of bread?" Or "I've got some chicken in my room, got it from Meals on Wheels, you want it?" My neighbors feed me too. It's reciprocal. I've been deeply grateful since there do come times when the check is a bit too far away and I don't have anything in my room that doesn't need cooking.

I don't think the story means nice guys don't win or that empathy keeps you out of the upper crust. I think it's that people with empathy handle homelessness better and find it easier to survive the streets. The mean ones get in fights and get themselves in jail. Loners crawl off and have a much harder time of it because they aren't getting help from the street.

Or they drink and keep using the alcohol-addiction resources to get along.

In shelters the mean ones turn up but the guys with signs asking for work or food are usually the more sociable and friendly people who had hard luck. That letter writer was so shocked at the blue eyed man's generosity. It doesn't fit the profile. It's not what she expected for someone who doesn't have money to have e heart. Bad things do happen to good people.

I guess maybe that's why the story makes an impact on the socially sheltered. Maybe that was its point. "OMG someone who doesn't bathe or work actually cares about someone else. Maybe that's why he's not working, he looks after the mentally impaired guy."

What he needs is a place to crash that doesn't treat him like a juvenile delinquent. Work that he can do in emergencies and get paid for so that he's still got his self respect and doesn't get looked down on by insulated middle class people. Open markets where he can sell stuff he scrounges or gets given. Co-ops where he can own his work.

My city is of two minds about homeless people. We have the same divide on that as the rest of the country. Wealthy community developers gentrify old quaint low income neighborhoods and introduce Sit-Lie laws - you can't sit down on Market Street. Oh but I'll bet that some exhausted tourist who has money and sits down on the street because she's got a disability gets a different explanation than a confused local senior who can't stay on his feet long enough.

SF does a lot of things right. The Sit-Lie law is a blotch on our civic honor. It runs against everything we stand for.

Currently a new program is being started, where panhandlers are offered the chance to participate with animal shelters in a dog training program. They get $50-$75 a week, the supplemental money they need to survive on benefits. The dogs are company and they're allowed to adopt the animal if they don't want to give it up. Walking the dogs serves the same purpose of getting out onto the street and meeting people, socializing and having something to do.

So the dog program is a good thing, but Sit-Lie has got to go. Other city programs need to come in to really get the homeless off the streets and create livable, low-income housing and emergency housing for no-income people. I've been no-income people more years than I had SSI, so I know that's its own terrible gap. It's too easy to die waiting for SSI if you don't have supportive family who can afford to take you in or friends willing to let you crash.
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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 21st, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
Its a way for them to feel like they're "doing something" without, well, doing something.

For my experiences, repeatedly, the people who wear their faith like a big banner and a megaphone, are the first gone in a crisis, the first to stab you in the back, the first to kick you down. They'll proclaim their goodness, but when it comes to put up or shut up? its tumble weeds and crickets.

My aunt sends these letters. I flatly asked her to stop. ( of the Lady GAGA is SAAAAAAATAN" variety.)

people truly don't want handouts. Handouts are stopgap at the end of the line. But no one wants to invest in a hand UP. Because blah blah prosperity gospel blah blah bootstraps blah blah I did it so can you no one ever helped me. ( which of course is lies all the way down.)

People have to stop treating the poor as if they're feeble minded in need of a good lecture. There's a certain entitlement that some take to go well "I'm not you, and I shall take upon myself to school you in the ways of not being poor, poor person!"

Being on welfare, people won't hire you. Your clothes are a bit worn, you rarely eat healthily, you've walked an hour in the crappy weather because you decide between "bus" or "food", and the "all welfare recips are drug addicts, lazy, thieves".

And so you're told you're worth nothing and why can't you just get it together!

I cheated to break the cycle. I have no regrets. The cost of my "cheat" was around 600 bucks to lift me OFF welfare, and if the gov ever figured that out, i'd happily cut them a check, if they promised it'd go to giving someone else that escape velocity too.

( cel phone, a nice outfit, a bus pass, and a proper diet, and a place that hired me and gave me a chance. bada bing.. off welfare.)
Jun. 21st, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
That's what this rant is about.

It doesn't take being a company with more than fifty employees to give someone a job.

I did those jobs time and again. I did odd jobs for years after I couldn't work, because I could manage to work for two or three days before my back crashed and health gave out. The lady getting ready for the yard sale was in New York, that's a real story. She gave me a sleeping bag, a warm brand new sweatshirt both with Marlboro branding but hey, I'm a smoker and started with that brand, cool coincidence. She even threw in a tiny 5" diagonal screen black and white TV-radio.

That radio, tuned to the classical music station, kept me sane for years at the shelter.

People pay three times as much for household help even when it's clearly something one-off like getting ready for a yard sale or getting the yard cleaned up at the start of the year. They'll go to a company or agency because they think all homeless people are addicts, alcoholics, thieves - not just who they are, the majority are people who have run out of unemployment benefits and need work.

But that takes getting to know people and making conversation. Most people's judgment calls are fairly good when it comes to which acquaintances can be trusted to come into your house and go through your junk. It takes actually talking to people as who they are though. I'm not advocating hire the drunks. If you talk to people it's easy to find out who's struggling and who's given up and is beyond help at the time.

The way benefits are structured, the government pays more to ensure no one cheats than they do actually giving people what they need in an emergency. The situation in the USA is rougher than yours, most places the benefits available don't cover the cost of even minimal housing until you actually get Social Security for being disabled or senior. Even then there isn't enough depending on where you live.

I think anyone who gets out of the system has to do what you did, cheat on it in some way to close the gap and get what you need. For the able bodied it gets harder than the disabled, though disabled people have to wait so long that there's a good chance of dying from the condition instead of getting the pension already paid for during all their working years.

An individual can make a difference.

Even a friendly conversation makes a huge difference in itself, it's that respect.

Thank you for replying to this rant. I haven't done many rants here for years but I think that's going to change.
Jun. 21st, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you.
People go through agencies for temp work because agencies "screen" which is fair, but even here, some places will offer the small odd job to a street person for a meal. I think its good.

The problem in my experience is that everyone thinks the down and out need some flavor of nanny-paternalizing, and often when you say "I need x, y and z to be independent" they contradict .

If I was to help people off welfare with a program it wouldn't just be a stern lecture on how to act, what to wear, how to write a resume. (no lecture), most job clubs I went through were useless.

what worked was an agency that placed welfare recips with companies, subsidized the training for the new staff. It wasn't "workfare".

There seems to be more of a stigma to hiring a disabled person in the US, because of the percieved "hassle."

its like your country touts social contract and family, but its all lip service. Another friend in chicago is going through a heap of BS because her husband's job has decided to cut his hours to get him to quit, weeks before the second kid's born. How's that family friendly?

( and the GOP would say I'm SO oppressed! hahahaha. right. The churchlies don't do much for the poor other than preach before feeding. The stories I heard of the corruption in the Salvation army in vancouver ensures they never see a dime.)
Jun. 22nd, 2012 07:17 am (UTC)
Re: Thank you.
There is VERY definitely a stigma against hiring people with disabilities in the US. We are very, very lucky that Storme's work is so lenient because I honestly don't know if he would be able to find another job with his health issues. :(
Jun. 22nd, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you.
I used to use temp agencies and was shocked at the gap between what they got paid and what I got paid.

The "workfare" programs are actual slavery, so far below minimum wage as to be laughable and demand such long hours a person couldn't go looking for real work while doing it. I remember running into people who were doing two and three hour commutes to get to those assignments. Chilled me to the bone.

Don't even get me started on the Salvation Army. I used to put my change in their pots, not any more. I still get nightmares about the Salvation Army shelter.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 07:16 am (UTC)
I hate chain letters. If they have the whole threatening "If you don't send this to *x number of people*!!!" thing, I don't send them on principle (or I delete that particular passage, if it happens to be an unusually cute story, which I have sometimes seen... usually involving kittens).

The fussy religious ones... ugh. I have thankfully gotten my mother to stop sending those. (Along with the fake warnings after I sent enough snopes.com links.)
Jun. 22nd, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)
Good point
There's no reason if I get a good one about kittens not to just edit it into something sane - just a simple "Know you like kittens, thought you'd enjoy this."

On this one I couldn't bring myself to send it to anyone. I normally ignore them but it made me so angry I had to rant instead of just throwing it in the spam folder.

In retrospect, I'm wondering if it was written by the person who did it or just made up in some evangelism office as a piece of pure fictive spam.
Jun. 22nd, 2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Good point
Most likely, the latter.
Jun. 30th, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Gah! That stupid piece of crap is still going around!? I remember getting this or something like it from an easily brain-handled teenager when relatively new to the net and when I changed email addresses I never let her know. I'm a Christian and I hate chain letters, especially any that try to pass themself off as Christian. Really, Christians do need to stop buying into this patronizing codswallop. Real charities don't run the way this chain letter claims. real life doesn't go the way stories play out in chain letters for that matter. and if you want to see more of why this Christian hates chain letters, just look here. Why Smash Chain Letters? The Mission
http://chainsmashers.mixxt.com/networks/content/index.Why%20Smash%20Chain%20Letters_%20The%20Mission and http://fictionlands.pbworks.com/Hoaxton and BTW, unlike so many people with 2020 vision, I do not give one flying hot dart who is white and who is black, or blue or purple or sparkly......
Jun. 30th, 2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
Yours is the first real on-topic comment with a link that got labeled as a suspicious comment. Normally only the Russian language porn links and other weird spam get flagged, but every spam filter makes mistakes. This is why I look at the suspicious comments before deleting in mass, glad I did.

Cool that you're a Christian who disagrees with the poisonous ideas in the chain letter. You're right. This chain letter also disparages your religion and promotes a hideous stereotype of Christianity, which is as broad and varied as any other random grouping of people.

What's interesting is that an article I read this morning pointed out that in the UK, most of the particularly religious Christians tend to be leftist especially on economic issues. They pay attention to the constant messages of Jesus about kindness to the poor, generosity, respect for others, loving your neighbor. Not that kind of toxic "charity" either but the kind of generosity that treats people in need as just people who happen to have had some bad luck in life. Which is the truth about need, no matter what the assorted bigots would have people think about the Deserving or Undeserving.
Jul. 1st, 2012 12:33 am (UTC)
Re: Congratulations!
Hehe! Leave it to me to buck a trend and confound a spam filter. Or buck several and confound other people as well. You have that spot on, these chain letters really give Christianity a bad rap, and I'm one of a few who sees it that way and will consistently and vehemently rant about it. Or, chain-smash as it is officially called. So far it's just me and a couple others, but a lot of things start small. Thanks for the positive response. Oh, and I dislike chain letter kittens as well. They'll get smacked as hard by me as anything else. *Grin*

The worst chain letter that has duped Christians though, has to be "Angels In The Alley" It's amazing it was the only thing smashed when I took the time to smash it, and nothing else within reach got damaged. Talk about being royally ticked off!

As for politics, there is a heckload of stuff both left and right need to ditch before I'll get on board with either one. But anyone associating themself with being Christian needs to mean it, not just use the word as part of a platform, and of course, it's imperative they reject, and preferably smash all chain letters.

I can't count the number of times I've started out jumping for joy at reading some Christian's article begin by discouraging the spreading of manipulative virals - only to scream in bitter disappointment again to find them say at the end of the article to "Go ahead and pass it on if you really think you need to, but just cut out the good/bad luck stuff" for example. Or else I find that a couple entries later, they posted some meme on their site - and not to smash it - they caved, just like any other forwarder they had been trying to discourage earlier. *Facepalm*

Some chain letters can be smashed with a good deal of laughter, or a mixture of laughter and rant, and that hoax about the kidnapped 7/3/5-year-old girl/boy in a silver/gray truck/car, will be one of those when I can get the smash written. That kid has been going on the longest joyride in all of Make-Believe history. Yeah, the dupes think the driver is the one holding the kid hostage and calling all the shots, but little do they know. The reason I mention that hoax is because it's going around again on FB, according to a recent question on Yahoo. It will be fun to smash so that anyone who might read the smash and the links to sites debunking the hoax, can feel great about not worrying over some fictitious kid who is not in any danger and never was.
Jul. 1st, 2012 01:10 am (UTC)
Re: Congratulations!
I do have friends who send me kittens and cat picture forwards, but they don't have the chain letter shtick in there that something BAD would happen to the cat or the kitten or me if I don't pass it on. More just a series of cat joke captions or something and they know I'm into cats so send me lolcats. I pass those on occasionally but only to other cat lovers.

It's not the same thing - because most of the time even those harmless forwards just stop with me. I don't mind a page of jokes or cat pictures or something when it's not a scam and not a chain letter. Heck, I go to the lolcats site to look at more of them sometimes on purpose.

I think most of the people who know me know better than to send me actual chain letters, this one was rare.
Jul. 1st, 2012 10:59 am (UTC)
Re: Congratulations!
IMO, those are chain letters too - simply by being viral. Ditto for jokes and videos that trend. Remember the Susan Boyle video or the ones with the babies laughing hysterically at paper being ripped up? I love cats too, the real thing. Lolcats on the other hand, smash smash smash. Chain letters.

A few years ago, an Il Divo video chain went around in the late spring and early summer. I received it from my sister who was really taken with them. Me, not so much, but even less so when I found out shortly after that it was another viral video - AKA chain. Oh, no. I was sure to get it again from someone else. Sure enough.

Some years before that, a picture joke swirled around the net, and was talked and laughed about by people I knew offline, and wildly circulated online. I was getting it on several mailing lists from different sources and it made me want to throttle something.

That Youtube duckling relocation video is going around again this year too. It got talked about and sent around back in 2010 when there were ducks in my front yard, and people thought I'd be so amazed by this man's effort to help a clutch of ducklings off a building's ledge or roof.

I wasn't.
Jul. 1st, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Congratulations!
Well, we draw the line in different places then. To me there's a difference between forwards in general and chain letters. If forwards are in topics I enjoy, I like getting them but don't often pass them on unless I know someone who'd actually enjoy getting it. More often than not, the first person I'd think of sending it to is the one who sent it to me and then it goes nowhere.

To me it's not the same thing. There's nothing superstitious about "these are some funny cat pictures with captions" and lo, it contains half a dozen lolcats I'd be commenting on if I saw them on Facebook. My friends see me comment on those all the time on Facebook so they know it won't offend me to send another one.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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