I’m not Catholic, but the Pope changed my life. OK, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but not much after the New York Times published an editorial on March 3, “Pope on Panhandling: Give Without Worry.” I like to think of myself as generous, but now I realize it has been somewhat conditional.

At the stoplights or on the street, like many of us, I noticed and did not engage with the people — humans — standing on the corner asking for food or money. I never felt completely comfortable ignoring them, so I had to create a story to reconcile my feelings and behavior. Oh, they are part of a panhandling ring. They’ll use the money for cigarettes or drugs. Or, I give to charities directly. But those statements were about me, not them. I didn’t want to be taken advantage of. I didn’t want to feel bad about what was going right in my life compared with theirs.

After reading the pope’s words, I realized that in order to make me feel better, at some point in my mind, I had to make them the bad guys.

We rationalize and justify all of our behavior. We are emotional first, logical second. We feel a tug and then immediately establish the conditions that allow us to act. This normal behavior serves us and harms us. The justifications happen so quickly that we rarely see them as such. Then they become part of our lives and our legacies.

When it comes to money, we always have reasons for what we seek or avoid. Sentiments were passed on to us in our childhood and we will most likely pass them on as well. But are they real? Do they serve us? Because your parents or grandparents grew up during the Depression, does that mean that you are going to be poor? Because a relative died young, does that mean you should not save for tomorrow? Because you grew up with financial advantages does that mean they are yours to keep?

In the article, the pope says, “You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. … stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands … see another person as a human … with a life whose value is equal to your own.”

I believe those words, and yet I at times unwittingly have acted contrary to them. Giving is hand to hand. While the pope has clarified for me what to do in this particular situation, he also has opened my eyes to exploring other areas where I should be paying attention.

Maybe if we first looked ourselves in the eye and explored what we have justified or rationalized, we can change our own lives.

Spend your life wisely.

 

Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina