I spot them from a block away, in their matching t-shirts with their backpacks, folders, pamphlets and clipboards, assailing the passing crowds with all-to-cheery greetings.
While I’m making my way to my next downtown meeting, they want me to pledge money to save the rainforest, Planned Parenthood and everything in between.
Without further ado, here are the successive levels of guilt they provoke in me.
1) Guilt in the Face of Poverty and Disaster: I should give money to such a worthy cause, and yet here I am, studiously examining something on the other side of the street until I’m past the canvassers.
2) Not-Doing-Enough Guilt: I don’t make any pledges to the canvassers because I already make a monthly donation to the charity of my choice, plus a dollar or two at every check-out counter in town that’s raising money for abandoned pets, gardens for inner-city youth or care packages for US troops. But almost half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. Surely I can do more.
3) Interpersonal Guilt: I am annoyed by the irreverent familiarity with which the canvassers address me, but then, what am I doing to make a better world? They’re just using any means necessary to get money for a good cause.
The following images are true stories:
4) First-World Sympathy Guilt: I should have pity on these idealistic, hard-working kids and help them meet their quotas by making a pledge. Canvassing must be a grueling job – little respect, quotas to meet, outside on the street all day and low pay (I read an article about it once). The unemployment rate for young Americans is sky-high and I want to support the work they’ve managed to find.
5) Self-Directed Mental Guilt: As I swing wide over the sidewalk to avoid them, I upbraid myself for the onslaught of useless thoughts that just prevented me from making a difference in the world. What other opportunities am I missing because I’m mired in selfish over-thinking?
I feel a follow-up statement is warranted here, given the response to this piece. While walking down the street of a nearby neighborhood where I was on assignment, canvassers assailed me: “do you have a moment for the Appalachian forests?” I demurred and passed by. Later, in a fitting finish to the ruckus over this post, I found myself seated next to the very same canvassers on the train home. I have yet to completely vanquish the five levels of guilt.