I came across this video this morning. It has a very powerful message.
I had never really though about this before and now that I have, I realized – wow… I do this. We all do.
I consider myself a person who tries to do good for those less fortunate. My wife & I have even made backpacks full of supplies for the homeless with our own money. I try to be a positive influence for the kids from my old neighborhood – all of which are well into their 20’s now. I try to teach my children that we aren’t rich, but we are comfortable in our means, so helping those less fortunate will help them more than it will hurt us and our lifestyle. But even despite all of this, I will haggle the price of something when there isn’t a price tag on it.
Lets think about this for a moment. When a product is for sale from a corporation, they have a ‘manufacturer’s suggested retail price’ (MSRP). Generally, companies try to get at least 100% or more markup on their cost of an item, so if the product costs $10 on the shelf, it may have cost the store $3-$5 to buy it from the manufacturer. We don’t argue the sticker price, though. We just decide whether or not we would pay that amount for it and then buy it or pass on it. Nobody is going up to the counter at Best Buy and asking to buy a $10 DVD for $7 because they aren’t willing to pay $10 for it, but would be willing to pay $7. Either we buy it then or we wait til it goes on sale or ends up on clearance.
When we see a vendor on the street, we don’t ask if we can get our $3 Polish Sausage for $1.50. Why? Because the price is clearly marked on the sign.
The only times we seem to haggle the price of something when there is a displayed price tag are yard sales and major purchases (like houses & cars). Yes, when we are making a major purchase, the reason for the haggling is obvious – it’s a shit-ton of money being exchanged. In America, the price we pay for our 5yr old used cars can potentially be enough to feed an entire village in another country for 3 months. We know this and so, since we are giving that money to a salesman instead, we want to negotiate how much of his commission he is willing to give up in order to make us feel better about the purchase. I’m sure most of these salesmen have families to support and mortgages to pay, but we ignore that for our own personal gains.
Not to ignore my mention of yard sales, I think we try to talk down the price of these things because we see the lifestyle that the person has right there in front of us. It is literally in the background (their house) and displayed all over the tables and blankets that they have their items sitting on. We already know if the person is selling a television, they have obviously upgraded or just don’t need it, so this is an item that will go in the trash if nobody buys it. It’s no big deal to negotiate this to us, but what if we thought the family had a tragedy. Would we pay full price for an item that they may not have a replacement for? If that family had a child with leukemia and they are trying to earn money to pay their medical bills, would we pretend to look at an item they are selling for $5 and give them $20 instead without even taking the item? I think most wouldn’t. I think most people would simply pay the asking price and go home feeling like the just got a good deal on an electric drill and did the right thing for the family by NOT trying to negotiate.
You might ask, “But OddPapa, I have my own problems and struggles and I really needed that drill, so why should I feel guilty for buying it? I even offered them $10 for the drill and they said they didn’t want handouts, so what do you expect me to do?” Yes, I understand this logic and it’s very reasonable, but would not having that drill force you into homelessness? Would just giving that person $10 or even $20 force you into homelessness? Yeah, probably not. However, that family will allow themselves to lose everything they own in order to save the life of that child. Those people would much rather end up in a place where they have to rebuild their entire life from financial ruin (repossessed house & cars, bankruptcy, etc), just so that child can live. So, what about the other 99% of yard sales? I say go ahead – negotiate. Why not? It’s not hurting them, so if it can benefit you, so be it.
Now to the real meat of this topic – the poor and homeless. How many of us pass by a homeless person with a cardboard sign on a highway exit? It happens pretty frequently here in Ohio. Do you really even give them a second thought? Do you make judgments based on whether it is a man, a woman, a woman and child, a white person, an old person, etc., etc., etc.? Most likely you do. I think most people do. We feel a certain way about what we see in that moment based on personal experiences and where our empathy is strongest. I admit that I have passed many white, homeless men without a second thought because I feel that as a white man in America, there is no excuse for you to beg. You have the most opportunity of anyone. But do we really? There are no government programs for white males. Ahh, but there is welfare – so in a system that actually provides white males the least opportunity for assistance, we still have a fail-safe. I have a personal notion that the person is either too prideful to apply for welfare, too lazy to do anything more than just ask for a handout, or that person is an addict that has put themselves in that position and needs to figure out how to pick themselves back up on their own. This is unreasonable thinking though because any adult could be in those situations as well, but I only make that snap judgement on white males.
Now, if that same person was out there doing something for their money, such as pulling tall grass from the roadside and shaping it into little roses and selling them for $2 a piece, I would gladly give that same man $10 for that little batch of grass. Why? It’s fucking grass. I literally have zero need for grass. I have a slight allergy to grass pollen and I have an acre of lad that I routinely cut the grass on so that it never reaches the length of the grass that he has shaped into a flower. Frankly, I won’t even spend $10 on a single, cut rose. So why should I give that amount of money to a man who has given me shit I would normally chop up and discard, while if that same person just asked me for the money, I would give an excuse and walk away?
Personal bias. The little grass rose represents ambition to me. That is something I highly respect. That is something that keeps many of us from paying what a person asks for something, whereas we might give more to someone else. Would you buy the same $10 DVD from a person who looks poor, that you would from Best Buy? No, you wouldn’t. You have a personal understanding and respect for businesses (even if you don’t like the evil corporate elitism that they represent) and you have a a personal disdain for those who can’t seem to figure out how to make ends meet. You subconsciously feel as though the company with the price tag has earned it’s right to set that price and stick to it, while you feel the person trying to sell you something on the street or just beg for the money your family has earned, is a bit of a burden.
This homeless man reviews books and sells them on the street
…But would that person be a burden if we helped them out by giving them the asking price? If that person has something for sale and has shown ambition, can they be successful if we just give them what they need to become successful? Some of them might. And the ones that don’t have something for sale, but are simply begging and panhandling for money, maybe those people just haven’t found a product or service to provide. Maybe those people could use some help from those of us who feel like we can help them find their own ‘inner entrepreneur’. Or maybe we simply feel like this is a good idea, but who has the time for all of that? I just hope that after reading this, some people will maybe go ahead and give that homeless person a dollar, maybe pay $5 for a DVD from a poor person, that we might otherwise pay $5 for in the bargain bin at a store, or maybe even volunteer at mission to help beggars find ways to inspire themselves to provide a product or service. In the very least, I hope that we have learned a bit more about ourselves through this and will take some time to reflect on changes we can make that will help us act more reasonably toward those who need it more than corporations do.