Joan Sheen Cunningham is the niece of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. She tells the story of visiting him when she was a young girl, and they’d go out for a walk around Manhattan. He was a celebrity — the most famous priest in America, and one of the most familiar faces on television. People were naturally drawn to him. They would come up to him to ask for an autograph or, sometimes, money.
Sheen never said no.
Finally, Joan asked him, “Uncle, why did you give that man money? How do you know he really needed it?”
He replied, “Joan, I have no idea. But I don’t want to take the chance.”
My wife Siobhain is the same way. (She has so much to teach me!) She keeps a roll of dimes in her purse and always stops to give something to the old man with the empty cardboard cup, or the woman sitting on the steps of the subway begging, or the young guy sitting outside Macy’s holding a sign that says “HOMELESS.”
I thought of that when I read this post by Axios CEO Jim VandeHei. There is wisdom here — and, I think, grace:
Well into my late 20s, I often flinched at giving money to a homeless person, rationalizing that I might be enabling laziness or drug use.
My wife, Autumn, is the opposite. She always gives money and engages every person in need.
One day, with the kids in the backseat, she pushed back against my view, saying: “If I’m going to make a mistake, I want to err on the side of giving a drug addict money rather than not giving a hungry person means to eat that day.”
Why it matters: She changed my mind about generosity. More importantly, she inspired our kids (on their good days) to adopt a similar help-don’t-hide approach to people in need.
This mindset applies to leadership, as well as life: We all have chances to help those struggling instead of looking the other way — or justifying doing nothing.
What this might look like in regular life or at work:
- If you see need, act: It’s so easy to see someone in need, on the street or in the office and convince yourself it’s none of your business — or that someone else will step up. Be the one who takes action.
- If you wonder, ask: I am an introvert, so my natural instinct is to keep to myself. People like me need to force themselves to simply ask if someone needs a hand when things seem off. This remains a struggle for me.
- Err on the side of generosity: Autumn is right. Are you ever going to feel bad about giving money or time to others? Never. “Our job is to give. Let God decide if the recipient did good with your gift,” she says.
- Surround yourself with givers: All habits are contagious. Between Autumn and my parents, who give all their time and focus to their kids even though we’re adults, I am smothered by givers. It can’t help but rub off.
- Others are watching: You will be surprised how many watch and copy you. All actions are contagious — and goodness spreads just as easily as badness.