That was my answer. The question? Well it wasn’t really a question at all and that was the problem. It was a statement. For an extra dollar you can help support literacy in Illinois—and then she stared at me. And when I say that she stared at me, I mean to say that she gave me a look that said, only a complete asshole would refuse to give one little dollar to help people read.
Well color me a complete asshole, because my dollar stayed in my pocket and will likely go towards something off the value menu at a local fast food joint while people here in my home state continue to not be able to read—and I’m fine with that.
Now, it’s at this point that I feel it necessary to tell you that I am that guy. I’m the guy who can always be counted on to buy a candy bar from you so that your snot-nosed kid can get new soccer uniforms. I’m the guy who never misses a Salvation Army kettle. I’m the guy who buys tootsie rolls or paper carnations to support whatever disease is having it’s big day. I’m the guy who’s a mortal lock to pledge to your Walk-For-Whatever. The girl scouts all know I’m a sucker for their cookies. I’m a giving kind of guy.
And if you came up to me and asked me to help support literacy in my home state, I’d give to that cause too, but when you try to guilt me into it while I’m in line at the store, you can bet your sweet ass that my money is staying in my wallet, thank you very much!
Ask, and you shall receive. Try to guilt me into giving and I’ll be stubborn just for fun.
The whole idea that any organization would accost me and put me on the spot like this is insulting. If I want to walk by a bum on the street and not give him my spare change, all I have to say is—sorry buddy, I don’t have any, even if I have $0.97 jingling around in my pocket. If I want to walk past that Salvation Army kettle, I need only put my head down and ignore the bell ringer.
But when Little Miss Cashier Girl at the bookstore tells me that I can help people learn to read, she knows damn well that I have money. I just handed it to her. It just means that I get less change back. It means that one, itty-bitty little dollar isn’t going to make it back to my wallet.
So, she looks at me with those big doe eyes and says her line: For an extra dollar you can help support literacy in Illinois. She might as well be saying: For an extra dollar, you can save a bag full of puppies from being set on fire! Or, for an extra dollar, you can keep babies from being dunked in acid. That is the tone she says it with, that is the look she uses to accompany her request.
In her eyes, it is, of course, a moral imperative that I donate just one little dollar. Well I say no. I say no because I will not be bullied into giving. I say no because I’m offended that you try to hold my change hostage. I say no because I don’t care if some 17 year old girl working the register at Borders thinks I’m an asshole. I say no because you have a lot of nerve trying to hijack my dollar like this. If you want to station a person at the door who ASKS me for a donation, I’m all for helping you to end illiteracy. But as it is now, with your guerilla-warfare tactics, I am proud to say and shall scream from the mountaintops: I SUPPORT ILLITERACY IN ILLINOIS!!!!!
More books for me! Now, I won’t have to worry about someone coming in and taking that last copy of the book I want to get off the shelf, because that fool can’t read! Muah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Somewhere, in some board room, some asshole stood up in front of a bunch of people and presented them with this idea. He got a raise, a promotion and a pat on the back because I’m sure it’s wildly successful. Most people don’t give from the heart. Most people can be guilted into giving though. The change-jack is probably a very successful strategy. And all of those people in that office probably think it’s brilliant.
Well, I don’t think it’s brilliant. I think that when you stop relying on people’s good will and start relying on guile to achieve your means, you are no longer a worthy cause. If you are duplicitous in how you get your money, surely you will be duplicitous in how you spend it. You justify your means with the end. Well, I justify my lack of charity with your lack of scruples.
In all seriousness, illiteracy is no joke. But neither is my point—when not-for-profits start resorting to these kinds of methods, they lose all integrity. They lose any sense of trust I might have had in them, had they approached me in an honest way. Which is why, in the end, that dollar won’t really go to some item off the value menu at McDonalds, I’ll just add it to the dollar I wind up giving to the next bell ringer I see outside a grocery store, or the next guy at the red light who wants to give me a tootsie roll.
I’m happy to give. I just refuse to be taken.