Sig Other is diligent about the Jewish custom of “tzedakah”. He gives generously to organizations both religious and political. He’s sort of a softy for someone who presents so tough and he can be moved to tears (though he would deny it) by the plight of the oppressed. And he will always, always give money to those in need on the street. There is always an extra dollar in his pocket, always an extra few in the car.
But recently, Sig Other has decided that isn’t quite enough. Recently, Sig Other has been moved by something else: bad messaging. It all started when we saw a young man sitting at the freeway entrance holding a sign reading: ILL – PLEASE HELP. “That’s bad branding,” said Sig Other, spritzing with Purell after handing the young man some cash. “I could help that guy. If he just changed his brand, he’d do a lot better. No one wants to get close to a guy who is sick.” Admittedly, not everyone processes tzedakah through the lens of a self-professed germaphobe, but I had to admit, I could see his point.
Later that same day we saw an older gentleman with two signs. One said: HUNGRY. The other: MEG WHITMAN DEVIL GOLDMAN SACHS EVIL DESTROYERERS OF THE WORLD. With the first sign, Sig Other could find no flaw. Simple, to the point. The second sign? Bad messaging. Meg Whitman might be the devil and Goldman Sachs may be responsible for the end of the world but that doesn’t make the sign a good fundraising tool. California, as Sig Other pointed out, is the state that vetoed gay marriage the first time around and voted the Terminator into office. So there’s a damn good chance at least half the hungry guy’s audience who may have been sympathetic to his digestive plight was just turned off by his political dogma and rolled their stuffy windows back up.
And then came the last straw. Then came the day that Sig Other walked down a street in Vancouver, Canada and saw a man holding a sign that said, “Hungry???” The man was eating a sandwich. This was, without question, a clear case of poor advertising. Sig Other could stop himself no longer. He offered a dollar. And then he offered more. “This,” he said to the sandwich-eater, “is a bad sign. I’m confused by your messaging. Are you asking if I’m hungry? Or are you suggesting that being hungry is something to question? And if you are trying to sell your hunger in order to get money, don’t you think it’s a bad idea to be eating a sandwich at the same time that you are holding the sign? Is it that you are offering ME the sandwich? Do you see what I’m saying?” Of course the man did not see, and in that moment possibly wondered how he had attracted someone so intense and passionate (or perhaps someone so crazy). He continued to eat his sandwich, looked down at the dollar and said, “American?”
In spite of (or perhaps because of) this response, Sig Other has made a new pledge. In addition to giving money to anyone in need, he also now pledges to help build their brand. He will, for instance, explain to the sick guy that perhaps that “ill” may not be the message to lead with. Or he may say to the Meg Whitman Hater that he would be better served keeping his political agenda to himself. In this way, Sig Other feels he is bringing more than just cash to the transaction. Or, in his words, “I’m giving away my intellectual property. And that is the most valuable thing I have.” So now, in addition to checks written and donations logged, Sig Other has found an even better way to fulfilling the mandate of tzedakah – a couple of bucks and a bit of advice.