Ira Kortum:Adding up the change one person at a time

Ahhh, the holidays. A time for getting together with friends and/or family. A time to look back on the events of the past year and reflect on what you’ve been doing with your life. A time to be generous to yourself as well as others, to give gifts that show affection and appreciation to those you know.

Picture if you will a nice blustery day, a little cold, but the amount of clothes you’re wearing is keeping you nice and pleasantly warm. You’re walking around downtown, taking in the sights and smells of your surroundings. A group of people pass by, laughing as they sip on their Starbucks coffee, a vendor selling something warm from his cart to eat, just about everyone around you seems to be in a good mood.

You move on and then you see her. Sitting on a corner with her belongings in a dirty well-worn backpack, her hand out asking for spare change. Spanging (the activity of asking for spare change) is nothing new in Portland. You either have it to give or you don’t. You get a little closer and see she could easily pass for 15 or 30 depending on what angle you see her from or how the light falls on her face. You get a little closer still and hear her, in a non-confrontational, politely embarrassed way, say, “Spare change?”

You’re about half a block away when it happens. A man in a very expensive business suit (a suit that looks like a half-year’s worth of your salary) is shouting obscenities at the girl. “Get a job you lazy fuck! I work, I make my money, why can’t you fucking people just leave us alone? You know you’re breaking the law sitting there don’t you? Where’s a fucking cop?” There’s no cop. He’s towering over her looking like he’s going to kick her. You start forward to stop him, but before you get there he changes his mind, and as he leaves he simply spits on her.

Is this a great city or what?

And just who the hell does that guy think he is? “Hey look! Somebody down on their luck having a hard time in life, let’s kick ’em!” How can someone become so demeaning, viscous and cruel all over a little bit of inconvenience that he could more than afford? Or why couldn’t he just have said “No”?

We’ve all had hard times at one point or another, and people have to be responsible for their own actions and decisions. It’s just that not everybody can do it on their own, or not everybody had some help to do so in the right moment. Look back on your own life and see if you can find a moment where there was someone in the right place and time that gave you a kind turn or helped you in a time of need. If you can find a moment like that think of it for a second or two, then ask where you might be today if that person never showed. Now keeping that thought in mind, think of this.

Why is it people get more possessive with their change around the holidays? Unless you’re the type of person who puts all their change into a jar, saving up for gifts or paying back loans or something else a little more noteworthy. In reality, it’s going to be spent on a candy bar or coffee or used in some other transaction. And instead of getting more change back to put in your pocket, you’ll get a nice bill instead.

“But it adds up,” some would say. Good, little helpful deeds toward your fellow human being accumulating over time is a good thing as far as your karma account is concerned.

So here’s a little idea from the Pissed-Off Artist. It’s the holidays, and so in keeping tune with what the true Dickens style of what Christmas spirit is all about, when someone asks you for a little bit of kindness, you know, the 50 cent kind, GIVE!

Remember the words compassion and mercy? SHOW SOME!!!

If you have a little more than change in your pocket you could actually live without but are afraid if you give the money it will be used for something other than food (and the thought of that gives your conscience a tweak), ask them if they’d like a slice of pizza, a cup of soup, coffee or something that will warm them up in the 40 degree weather we’ve been experiencing.

Who knows, maybe they won’t be the only one who feels a little warmer on the inside afterward.

Happy holidays.