What Makes People Give

The Tipping Point for Ocean of Hope Foundation


In my last post, I provided an overview of our charitable non profit Ocean of Hope Foundation, why we began it, and how we are creating ocean stewards around the world.  But there was a tipping point which actually made us realize that NOW was the time to act.  Here is one of the two stories that moved us to action, a simple role playing exercise that changed our lives.

ocean conservation

What makes people want to give back? Carin planting a tree in Borneo

giving back

Aiding humanity is the most satisfying ways to live your life


I had a sandwich and an apple but not a clue.  I didn’t have a penny in my pocket and I had been dropped in the middle of downtown San Diego.  I didn’t know my way around this city and the only way to get picked up was to get to a homeless shelter called Father Joe’s.  It was somewhere in town.  I figured locating it would be easy, getting there may be a different story altogether.

They say to know a man you must walk a mile in their shoes.  That was my plan today.  I wanted to know what it was like to have no resources and to rely on the world at large for their kindness. I wanted to see life from the other side of the door.  It was life altering.

Locating the shelter was simple.  I walked over to a waiting city bus and just asked the driver.  The shelter was a few miles away.  I decided the best way to get there was to take the bus.  That would require $2.20 of which I did not have even one cent.  Somehow I had to get money.  I didn’t have anything to sell except my sandwich but then I wouldn’t have any food, a decision made by millions of starving and homeless people each day.  I didn’t figure anyone would buy it anyways.  So I guessed I would just have to start asking.

I instantly realized the courage it took to walk up to someone on the street and simply ask for money.  It was the most humiliating task I had ever taken on.  The very first thing I had to do was to swallow my pride.  And then after swallowing, I had to keep swallowing in order keep it down.  I began to sweat and I became extremely nervous.  After about ten minutes of procrastinating, I walked up to couple and asked if they had any spare change.  The reproachful look I got was a slap in the face to the pride now unsettled in my stomach.  Ok, try again.  The second approach was even worse.  The reaction was, “You don’t look penniless to me” and they kept on walking. 

The more people I approached the more humiliated I became.  No one would help.  Not a single penny.  I sat down to think this through.  How many times was I the one walking by, not stopping, not helping?  How many times did I wonder to myself if the person on the street was just looking for money for drugs and alcohol?  And the most important question was what was I going to do about it?

I was beginning to see things from the other side but at the moment it wasn’t helping me get to where I needed to go.  So I picked myself up and tried again.  This time I approached a group of well dressed businessmen standing on the sidewalk.  I explained that I needed to get to the other side of town and I didn’t have any money.  All I needed was $2.20.  Could they help me?

The first thing this group did was look away from me and at each other.  They each looked to the other for help? an excuse? a shared knowing?  a way out of this uncomfortable situation?  Talk about uncomfortable.  I was the one rolling over on my belly asking for a handout.  The first one said, “um, I don’t have any money”.  That was the most transparent lie I had ever seen.  The second one said, “All I have is a credit card.”  You’ve got to be kidding!!!  Among this group of six obviously well to do businessmen, not a single one had two bucks?  A third decided to use humor as his chicken exit.  “Hey, I think you’re on her turf” as he pointed to a homeless woman behind me.  They all got a laugh out of that one.

Ok, one more time I tried.  “Come on you guys, I have to get to the other side of town, I have no money, all I need is a couple of bucks.”  Now I think they realized that one of them would have to cough up some dough in order to get me to leave.  Someone finally reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped it in my palm.  It was a firm signal that this was all I was getting, now go away.  I thanked them all for their kindness and walked away.  After an hour of begging for money, my total take was 76 cents.  Looked like I was walking.

On my way to the shelter I stopped and chatted with a homeless man playing guitar on the sidewalk.  As we sat on the retaining wall over the water, I offered to share my sandwich and apple with him but his pride declined.  I began to understand that feeling. He explained that he slept in the courtyard of an apartment complex at night.  The owner had become a friend and allowed him to spread out a blanket in the corner.  He told me he was homeless by choice and that he liked the freedom of spending his days how he wanted.  He played his guitar on the street which earned him enough to eat.  And then he decided to help me. He said if I wanted a place to stay I should check out Craig’s list.  “You see all of these boats in the harbor?  Lots of people just giving them away because they can’t afford to keep them anymore.  You’ll find them listed for free on Craig’s List.”  I silently wondered why he didn’t then live on one of them.

It seemed it came down to pride again.  Does anyone really become homeless by choice?  Given a chance, wouldn’t anyone take a roof over their head and a hot shower?  Who, by choice, would beg from others to stay alive?  And who were we, the non-homeless to not help?

I found my way to the shelter where my ride picked me up.  I had put on another man’s shoes and didn’t like the way they fit.  They were uncomfortable and gave me lasting blisters.  I realized that for years I had been waiting for the “right” time to help and to give back on a sizable scale.  Someone once said to me, “Why save for a rainy day when it’s pouring outside.”  I heard Phil Collins sing, “Another Day in Paradise” and I cried.  When would NOW be the right time?  For the next two days I carried that 76 cents in my pocket and jingled it as a tactile reminder. 

I gave the 76 cents to a homeless child before I left San Diego.  That change in my pocket would signal change in my life and a final catalyst which led me to establish the Ocean of Hope Foundation.  This charitable non profit is dedicated to a healthy prosperous ocean and the communities that live on its shores.

Create your own adventure and watch it change your life.

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