I received a comment from someone named “Tammy” on my last blog, and would like to respond, and appreciate her (I’m assuming Tammy is a her) for righteously kicking my seemingly discompassionate and arrogant arse.
Here’s her response:
I was looking through blogs about street musicians and came upon yours.
After reading it, I developed the same reactions as you claimed to have experienced after hearing the man ply his trade. Yes, ply his trade, because I have run into street musicians like him before, and instead of rushing by I have actually conversed with them. None of them would have been there if they did not have to. The winter wind gives them chronic joint troubles that eventually develop into arthritis, the passersby can spit and curse at them, and yet they keep up. That is not because the petty humiliations inflicted upon them by people like you, who rush by with annoyance and contempt writ clear across your face, are too sophisticated for lowly, untalented beings like them to appreciate. No. It’s because they need the money. Between impoverishment and begging, and doing something so that their dignity is a little better off, this is the choice they made.
And for all the time it took you to write an entry that offers up the misery of these people as amusement to your friends and acquaintances, I suggest you give this person $5 and ask him to take a rest indoors. That way, you would get rid of an offense to your ears while unintentionally bestow a token of kindness on a cold night.
I’d have to say first, thank you for writing a very scathing response to my blog, which caused a very humbling emotion within me – I’m not going to defend what I said, because I wrote it at the spur of the moment, and probably should not have been published at all. I guess I just assume no one actually reads anything I post – hence, the illusion of privacy online, which is sorely misplaced. I will, however, try to explain my thoughts on this, and hopefully give whoever actually DOES read my blog faith that I’m not a horrible person at the core.
I admit, I do feel uncomfortable around those who are drastically less fortunate than I, and being in New York City after spending most of my life in nice white picket fence suburbs and college campuses, I probably don’t have the street smarts to interact comfortably and easily with them. This does not mean I lack compassion for them, however, nor do I feel contempt for them, as Tammy suggests, though I can see how my blog may have been read in that way.
A little bit in my defense, I think Tammy makes a couple huge unfair and incorrect assumptions about me in her response. I did not, physically or otherwise, inflict any humiliations upon him or anyone else I have encountered – that’s just wrong. I simply walked past. I can see, though, that Tammy may see ignoring them, then blogging about it, as inflicting humiliation. I’ll expand more on my thoughts on that in my next paragraph. I give money regularly to street musicians in subways and around the city, knowing that even if I can’t necessarily afford to do it TOO often, they need it more. I, too, have conversed with many a street musician. There was one that was always at the street corner where I lived, and giving him a couple dollars walking home became routine. My blog post was supposed to be my private inner thoughts I felt I could freely share, just on how I was feeling at that particular moment. I realize, though, that my blog is not a private journal, and I should screen what gets published. I see what Tammy is saying, however, in that even thinking these thoughts, or feeling these feelings of elitism is a social problem – that people like me think this way about those less fortunate than us. I get it.
I think, really, there are two different issues at play here. One is my snobbery for music, which I admit, is elite, and probably drilled into me from a very early age. I can’t help what I feel, and my blog was how I felt – merely about the music itself. I suppose I treated the blog the same way I would critique and share my thoughts about a bad play or film I saw, or a bad concert I went to, separate from the socio-economic implications of the situation. The other is questioning my compassion for those less fortunate than I, and the means by which they subsist. I blogged about the first issue. Tammy attacked me for the second. Perhaps my mistake here is not making a clear separation between the two. Perhaps Tammy does not think they are mutually exclusive, and perhaps my mistake was feeling that they could be. For that, I apologize.
I feel my inadequacies to enter into conversation with those who have lives drastically different than mine most acutely at work – I tutor at an inner city high school. I remember the first day I went to class, and left completely disheartened that these kids will ever care about bettering their lives through education. I went home and wrestled with the question of whether I wanted to continue working there. I could find a financial aid job anywhere else, and one that does not put me in positions of potential physical harm or sexual harassment (both have happened), or just plain constant discomfort. I decided to stick with it – on one hand, in an admittingly self-serving way to learn from this experience and develop myself personally; but on the other, to hopefully gain an understanding of those who have lives completely different than mine so I can enter into a dialogue with them. Ultimately, I stay because it would break my heart to walk away.
I don’t want these kids to end up like the man in the subway station. Undoubtedly, and very unfortunately, several of them will. What I feel for them is never contempt, but heartbreak. And I’m very sorry that my blog post may have misrepresented that.