IOU’s

So I was in the subway yesterday and about to read my subway book (I’m finally getting the hang of subway reading!) when someone who had looked normal suddenly started talking loud. It was a solicitor.

I never seem to be able to drown them out, so I gave up on my book.

“I’m not here to sell candy,” he said jokingly, “but I will recite a poem.”

So he did. It had something to do with hard times and coming up against Uncle Sam. It wasn’t very good.

Then he said “If you don’t understand how hip hop has influenced my generation, I’d still appreciate some encouragement, a smile, a high five, anything would go a long way.”

So he started to walk the length of the subway, as they always do. I hoped he wouldn’t come too close to me, as I always do. I was in a particularly crowded part of the car, so my wish came true. I saw him return to his original position with about three dollars in his hand.

I began to feel bad. I generally don’t give money (though I have been known to cave — I recall one incident with a man with advanced hypothyroidism), but I felt like I should have given him a smile, or something to help brighten up his day, as he asked. After all he was putting himself out there, and most likely needed this money.

Growing up the concept of “stranger danger” was heavily enforced. As a result I rarely make eye contact with strangers, let alone talk to them. Especially in public places. Part of the reason why I didn’t smile was because in my experience smiling to a stranger usually leads to something else, like talking.

Nevertheless, I was feeling bad. But there was still some time before the next stop. And to my surprise, instead of standing there in silence, or reciting another blah poem, he went on this aggressive rant about how no one gave him a kind word or any encouragement.

And, though I couldn’t catch every word (he was far off and the subway was loud), I gathered it was quite nasty.

And I began to feel less bad about not smiling at him for a poem I didn’t appreciate and didn’t ask for in the first place.

Forgetting about the debate concerning solicitors in subways, let’s talk about this concept of default debt between individuals. That man felt he was owed a certain kind of reaction. We all give something, and expect something in return.

When I was a child I was very concerned about hell. My mother taught me that we are all guaranteed a spot in heaven, that it is our due. This is a nice thing to believe, but it’s hardly the prevailing Christian doctrine. Most Christians think you have to earn your way into heaven, whether it is by belief or good works.

Why did I feel being given a place in heaven was my right?

Likewise, I just graduated from college, and despite everything I was told, I still expected to be thought qualified for a job simply because I had a degree in the field. I felt I was owed a job (still sort of do).

Many men who come on to women or buy a woman a drink at a bar or buy her dinner on a date expect something in return.

Do I consider myself like them? No. But it is interesting, this self-righteousness and blind pride in humanity.

Here’s another example: I want to be a writer, more than anything. Somehow I feel I will have been cheated if I don’t have a published book before I die. That is the truth.

So what should we do with this impulse to hand out IOU’s to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that comes our way?

One answer is self control. Discipline has been very important to me since childhood, having played the cello since I was 7. Does it get easier over time? It never did for me. So manipulating my inner urges and feelings is something very difficult.

But what other answer is there?

I think the easiest answer is to learn to accept rejection. No, you didn’t get more than 3 dollars for your poem. No, I might not go to heaven (and being an atheist now, I no longer think there is one). No, I’m not going to get that job I applied for, or the next 20 jobs I apply for maybe. No, she doesn’t like you, drop it. No, I’m not a published author (yet).

No, no, no. Get used to that word. You will get denied things you want.

But we can keep trying. Sometimes we will get what we want. And in the meantime, don’t be a jackass if you get another rejection.