Repeating Haddaway’s Catchphrase: How did it go, again?
As Ghandi experimented with truth in is Autobiography, I conducted an informal experiment with love in Gothenburg, Sweden.
With the Swedish election coming up, there was a story in the free newspaper Metro, about how young and old alike are censoring themselves in terms of speaking out against injustice and politics in general, because of the high level of online hate-speech, intolerance and middle aged men’s apparent lack of understanding that the kids’ too, do have an understanding.
So with all this talk of online hatred, social media abuse, and the decay of Swedish decency; what is the state of love in the city of Gothenburg?
I decided to beg for a day. Dressed as I usually am, in normal everyday, summer attire; shorts, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, and your super fashionable, appropriately worn out Adidas Superstars. Being a brown skinned non-native, I wrote a sign saying “This is an experiment with love. Can you spare some change?”
First stop on the route as a beggar, was in front of a Hennes & Mauritz outlet in a highly populated shopping street.
I had no expectations, nor any false hopes of being overwhelmed by some random act of extreme kindness. I sat there with the sign in front of me, along with a paper cup, and practiced (in the degree it required it) patience and smiling.
Most people, as expected, just walked by and paid no mind. Others, quite a few, read the sign, and kept walking. Other than a few seemingly judgemental frowns, I received a few polite smiles, some very sincere smiles (indeed, how heart warming just one of those can be!) and some pocket change.
The amount of money is not important, nor was it any objective in itself. What kind of people, and in what manner they chose to give it, if they did, was what I was curious of. In the hour and a half I sat in front of Hennes & Mauritz, I collected a total of 30 Swedish Kroner, from four different individuals. Three of them kids. The last one, an older lady.
The first one, a hijab clad girl in her early to mid-teens, read the sign, took one step, took one back, took two forward, stopped, reached for her back pocket and turned around as she bowed down and saw me in the eyes and dropped a wee bit of coin in the cup.
The second one, a young boy, no more than 6-8 years old, was standing across the street with his parents and looked as if he was on his way to- or from watching a football (soccer, for the yanks) match. I didn’t see him coming, but out of the blue, as if the breeze brought him in, he was in front of me with a look of pity in his eyes, as he dropped a coin in the cup and tip-toed back to his parents. “That was a nice thing to do” his mother praised the boy. Indeed it was. You have a fine young man there, madame.
The third one, was a young man, aged what I would guess would be around 10-13. He came over, read the sign, and pulled out his wallet and gave what looked to be everything he had. I bowed in his presence, to which his immediate reaction was a smile and a simple “you’re welcome” as he rushed off to wherever he was going.
The fourth, the lady, gave more than the kids combined, but left before I managed to read neither her initial reaction or response to the sign. But she chose to give! Which is admirable. Thank you, lady!
The second spot for the business venture of the day, was a popular park; where loving couples of all kind, families and gangs of friends gather and flock to catch some of the summer sun’s vitamin C, some wine and more than often, some laughs.
I sat near the entrance, again with the sign in front of me, accompanied by the humble paper cup. Unlike the busy shopping street, the park is a place people visit to enjoy themselves and their leisure time, not wanting to be disturbed, so expectations were even lower than earlier.
But as opposed to the street, people did not even seem one bit interested in what the sign said. Almost everyone who passed by, ignored it, and those who didn’t, quickly looked away as soon as eye-contact was established. With the exception of one mother with a stroller, who looked back and gave a beautiful smile, there was only one man who chose to offer some change.
– “Why did you choose to give?” I asked.
– “Because I felt sorry for you” the man replied.
Which probably is the main motivation most people who give money to beggars and pan handlers. Next time you offer some help, and feel pity; rather than making the person who appears to be down on their luck, aware that you recognise their misery; try telling them it is because they are beautiful. Because you radiate warmth in the cold, and should go share that warmth with a hot cup of cocoa and a friend. Unless you are the type of person who has the audacity to go get two cups of cocoa and be that friend, yourself.
Offer your time, ask why they wrote the sign they did. Acknowledge their humanity, rather than their misery, and see them light up.
I have seen some quite creative please-help-me-i-am-starving-signs written on the streets of everywhere. And while the most heart wrenching ones indeed are heart wrenching, and stir up the worst types of guilt trips when one does not have the money or even ability to help, the creative ones that make you go “wow. I’ll give him / her something the next time I see her / him”, are memorable, in terms that they can make you see things in ways you earlier did not.
A lady stopped by me on the shopping street and exclaimed “well, that’s one way to say it”, came back later with her friend and pointed out that statement once more, (she didn’t offer coin, though) – a man read the sign, walked by, and turned around and said, tongue-in-cheek: “You’ve come to the wrong country! You’ve confused yourself!” – I dont know whether he was referring to the state of the Swedish debate climate as mentioned in the introduction, or the polarity issues that seems to have caused them, but from the three kids and one sweet lady that offered more than an actual fortune; what they had, the opposite rings more true.
Gothenburg, you have some amazing youth in your midsts, cherish them, they will bestow proudness upon thee and thine elders.