Last Thursday, while walking down to Tiger Tiger, I was approached by a scruffy looking bloke who asked me if I could spare him 11p. My default reaction was to say 'sorry, I don't have any change'.
Now the reason I bring this up is because I've got to the section within the book 'Join Me' where the reader eventually learns the point of Join Me, which is to make the world a better place by carrying out random acts of kindness (incidentally, the author has only just decided on the point of Join Me a third way in to the book, even though he has already recruited hundreds of members to the 'Collective', and spent lots of money getting leaflets and stickers printed to market Join Me).
Anyway, on retrospect I should have given the scruffy looking bloke 11 pence and not even have thought twice about it. It was 11 pence for god's sake, it wouldn't break the bank. But why was saying No my default reaction?
Well, I didn't actually say No. Instead, I told him I had no change. In fact, I went even further, and told him that I had no money on me whatsoever and was looking for a cash machine. Why I felt the need to elaborate in this way I don't know. Especially when I did have change on me, and wasn't in need of an ATM. The nice chap then proceeded to point me in the direction of a cash machine around the corner. So off I went, around the corner towards a cash machine I didn't need, in the complete opposite direction to where I wanted to travel, just so he wouldn't see through my blatant lies. I even had to wait around the corner for a minute hoping he'd move on before I could turn around and go back in my original direction. How sad!
If I analyse my actions, I guess I could use the excuse that my reaction was automatic 'learned behaviour' after years of living and working in large towns and cities where the police advise everyone not to give money to beggers because they will use it to fund their drug and alcohol addiction.
Now I'm no drug and alcohol expert (although I could be the latter if expertise is based on consumption (in my Navy days, I'm sensible now)) but I'm sure you cannot get much heroin, or even Special Brew for that matter (or is it Buckfast these days?), for 11p.
Looking back, he obviously wasn't even a tramp. He was just some scruffy bloke who was 11 pence short of his bus ride home. He probably wasn't even that scruffy, he just happened to have a beard, looked a bit rough, and was asking for money. So I put two and two together and came up with five.
It's fair to say I feel ashamed of myself, especially after I vowed to say YES more after my epiphany reading 'Yes Man'. I wasn't the only one saying no that day. While I was walking away I heard him ask at least a dozen more people if they could spare 11p, all of whom gave him the brush off. That in no way excuses my actions though.
I'm not halfway through Join Me yet but it seems to me a bit like the film 'Pay it Forward'. The interesting thing about Pay it Forward of course being that the end ultimately brings you back to the point of cynicism because his (Haley Joel Osment's character) final act of kindness - sticking up for his friend - leads to him getting stabbed to death.