A month ago, I started working as a street side solicitor for a nonprofit organization fighting for the environment. Since then, I’ve talked with hundreds of people. It is interesting being on the other side of the solicitation coin. Growing up, I had seen plenty of people outside the grocery store asking for cash or memberships or both; plenty of times I walked on by.
It hurt the first time I was told, “Not today.” That was terrible because it acknowledged the problem but betrayed an unwillingness to act. Worse were the quickly stated, “It’s okay” comments; how easily and haphazardly people blindly shunt aside information and dismiss moments of importance that exist right before their eyes. It’s funny now to hear the infinite variations of, “I support you guys anyway” — a perfect excuse that both expresses and bypasses one’s values and ideals.
It is difficult to describe the kind of person who stops. There isn’t any rule of thumb. Some people have heard about the issues I’m advocating. Some simply mishear my words and stop for the sake of resolving their confusion. Others are genuinely curious about an unknown topic, either because of their truly caring nature or because of some random neuron that fired in their brain. In any case, I accept the people who stop with love and energy, just because their listening is so valuable to me, when compared to the callousness and disdain of some.
Many people are in a real rush – I don’t begrudge them. But there are some liars. These claim to be in a rush, but swagger on. They upset me. Then there are those who claim to have signed on before – but from the nuances it’s obvious they have not. The difference is clear. For these people, “Thank you, have a wonderful day” is often the best gift I can give them. Along with those people who call me a Communist for my making a strong case for the importance of nature — all I can wish for them is to have some influence in their lives, even if it’s to show them kindness.
I didn’t become an advocate to ruin your day, to kill capitalism, or to waste your time. I came out here to find fellow spirits, those rare souls who do more than stop and listen in the moment of opportunity. Beyond the capability and circumstances which enables someone to contribute (n.b. no solicitor has ever begrudged an honest inability to pay), what is it that makes someone willing to act and give?
I’m partly responsible, that’s a consistent truth. As a representative of an organization, if I fail to express legitimacy in myself and the endeavor, there’s no way people will enroll. My own commitments and demeanor have to inspire confidence, and it’s also my job to make the experience safe and enjoyable – it’s a balancing act between earnestness and delivery in every conversation. But that’s the job description. Really, the pivotal point in engaging someone in a transformation exists over there, somewhere in the heart and mind of each person that walks by, and in the mystery of their constitution.
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