You know those charity people who linger on the streets in bright t-shirts, holding clipboards, who wave and smile you over to hear their spiel? I usually feel guilty for rushing past them, but on this particular day over the summer, I had some spare time, so I thought I’d at least listen.
His speech was vague, harsh, and dripping with guilt-trip. Something like “Did you know that x number of kids are starving right now? Do you feel good about that? No? Then give us $10 a month. Okay $5 a month.”
I politely declined. That all sounds theoretically compelling, but when it comes down to it, this is a stranger I just met on the street, telling me vaguely about horrible things that would make anyone feel bad. I prefer to research my charities before investing in them – and that’s part of the reason I stopped to listen: to hear out another story, to inform my decisions.
At first he was cool about my “no”, carrying on the conversation. “What do you do?” As usual, I responded with what I like to do rather than the factual answer. “I write about minimalism, about how having less stuff makes me more mindful.”
“There’s nothing minimal about a Marc Jacobs backpack,” he said with a smirk.
I was taken aback. I managed to reply with a smile that everyone has a different idea of minimalism, and that mine is having one bag that I really love.
He didn’t know that I had been carrying the same backpack since third grade to its near breaking point, searching for the perfect replacement for nearly a year. He didn’t know that I happened to find this particular bag at the Marc Jacobs accessories store in New York as it entered the shop, still in the wrapping on its first day available for purchase: fate. He didn’t know that one of my best friends had recommended the shop, and that another was accompanying me on my browse, weaving memories into the purchase of what is otherwise just a backpack.
He didn’t need to make assumptions about me, my lifestyle, or my poor bag. He didn’t need to make me feel horrible. But that last one is my own fault, for letting it get to me.
Let’s put this back in context. Here’s a guy who waved me over to tell me about children starving, and ask for my money. Did he single me out because of my designer backpack? Does he think that he’s a better person, because he spends his time asking people for money for charity, while I traipse around with my fancy backpack instead of putting my dollars towards feeding the starving children?
It’s taken this long for me to process this, and now I’m ready to share. So what do you think? Have you been judged, or made to feel guilty because of the things you wear?
P.S. While we’re on the subject of questioning one’s purpose/self-worth…