How to change the world – by Steve the homeless guy

I can change the world.  I know that now.

I once gave a homeless man my socks. I was walking back to my hotel from a concert in Sydney one night and this fellow was asleep in a lane without a blanket or shoes and socks. It was really cold. I took my boots off. Removed my socks and put them on his feet myself. He didn’t move. I thought he might be dead. But he wasn’t. He was probably just a bit frozen.

From that time I always wondered about people living rough on the streets. Where were their families, their friends? What happened to get them here? What mattered to them?

Today though, I’m walking the streets of Melbourne trying to find a coffee shop that’s open.  It’s early and I’m bemoaning the weight of my laptop bag and my choice of shoes.  First world problems.

I read his sign, I look at him briefly as I pass by.  Not wanting to make eye contact – I mean what do I do if I make eye contact with him?  Smiling is hardly appropriate, the guy’s lying on the street with a piece of cardboard asking for help – and I briskly walk past and smile?  Hardly.  So maybe I could just nod.  You know that slight tilt of the head in the other person’s general direction, an acknowledgement without emotion or message.  Just a nod.  Yeah maybe I could just nod.  There’s too much to think about – so I divert my eyes as he looks up, but I still see, from my peripheral vision, that he smiled at me.  I didn’t smile back, I didn’t even acknowledge this human.  Now I’m past him and I feel like shit.

I order my large and strong flat white, a croissant and some banana bread and take a seat looking out in to the busy Melbourne streets.  I try to get him out of my mind.  His name is Steve.  I read it on his cardboard sign.

Where are his family? His loved ones? Why has he got no tribe and no support? What brought him on to the streets? Why did I ignore him?

The croissant is good and the coffee is better.  I needed that.  It’s been a big few days and I head home tomorrow.  Another full day of business to attend to first .  I think about my day and what’s in store.  I struggle though, because Steve’s all I can think about.

No matter what I turn my mind to – reading, people watching, tram watching – I can’t get Steve out of my mind. I finish my croissant and grab my bag. I keep out my pre-packaged banana bread I just brought and get a $20 note from my bag. I have to go help Steve.

Then I stop myself, put the money back in my bag.  What am I thinking? How can I help him? There are hundreds of Steve’s on the streets of Melbourne right now. I can’t help them all. I can’t change the world.

Then I remember something I heard in a presentation a few days ago. It was said in the context of community engagement but I feel it relates to all aspects of our lives:

Show up on a scale where you can be powerful.

 How might I show up on a scale where I can be powerful?

I can be powerful in my compassion and care for Steve on this brisk but sunny Melbourne weekday morning. I can’t get Steve an apartment and a job and I have no idea what really matters to Steve. But this morning on this Melbourne street, I can read his sign. I can acknowledge him as a fellow human being.  I can hand him a coffee and banana bread.  I could drop the $20 in his hat along with the coins already in there and walk away.

Or I could look him in the eye, talk to him and tell him I hope he can keep his spirits up and that his circumstances get better and actually hand him that $20. I could really let him know that I see him, here on this Melbourne morning, outside a café, lying on cardboard and asking for help.

I get the money back out of my bag and I go to Steve.

I showed up this morning on a scale where I could be powerful.

I didn’t change the world, but in Steve’s world I made a small dent.

So in a way, I guess I did change the world this morning – thanks to Steve and lessons he taught me by just being Steve.

“Sweetheart. Oh thank you sweetheart. Bless you. You’ve no idea. Thank you sweetheart. Bless you”. 

That’s what I heard when I was walking away from Steve, and that’s what I heard all day in my head.

Bless you Steve for the lesson and for allowing me to change to world, to dent your world, just a little, today.

What are you doing today to show up on a scale where you can be powerful?  How can you dent the world today? 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi