I know a lot of my friends are very active and passionate in matters of politics and social justice – and my good friends know where I stand even if I don’t blog about it these days. So I’ve been thinking about this a lot – yesterday, as I was walking in downtown, I got panhandled. Happens all the time in urban settings – I said no, and he shifted focus to the next person.
Two blocks later, a young woman tried to start a friendly chat which wasn’t a friendly chat at all, but an attempt to steer me from the lunch I was hungrily pursuing and get me to sign up/give/whatever to the cause that had inspired her to stand on the sidewalk.
I respect that kind of passion, but this was not the right moment for this conversation, so I politely declined. But she kept talking, promising that her story would be REALLY brief. And I realized – saying no once should be enough. Period. The homeless person understood that, and they were mentally-damaged. To be measurably more rude than a street beggar is exactly how you annoy people who would probably agree with you, and turn them off to the whole idea of sharing your possibly-worthy ambitions.
I don’t think it’s really the young woman’s fault. It’s bad training. She’s volunteering, and her organization has told her that the goal is volume. Whatever it takes – get the signature, get donations. This is great for them, because they can siphon off her passion and youthful charm for free labor and build their mailing list – which is the real goal. But it’s a horrible misuse of her passion, prodding her to stand on a corner being rude to strangers all day while making her think she’s saving the world. Hectoring people in the middle of their daily routine is pretty much the least-efficient way to actually make anything better. It is, though, a very cost-effective way of building a mailing list – if you don’t give a damn about pissing people off.