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How to be an Object of Pity

with 22 comments

Hint: Grow a gray beard and present folding-money

Twice now young women have bought me coffee at the coffee shop on the campus where I teach. Just standing in line like everyone else—minding my own business—I pull out my $2 (cash-money) and the young woman in line behind me says, “Just put it on my card.”

I resist: “No! I wouldn’t hear of it,” I say. “You can’t. You must look after yourself with that—or at least spend it on your friends.”

I went on in that vein, until the cashier reached past my $2 (cash-money) for the woman’s card.

“She’s not going to spend it all anyway,” said the cashier, repeating what the woman said.

So. Free coffee. Thanks profusely offered.

Yesterday: same thing. I pull out my $2 (cash-money) and the young woman behind me says, “Just put it on my card.”

I resisted. This time with less velocity. Free coffee. Thanks profusely offered.

WPRMug-2-03022013I’ve puzzled over this phenomenon. What I know for certain is that the students here are some of the kindest people you’d ever hope to meet. And earnest. Looking around I also see that I have landed from the planet “old guy.” Though I know even recent grads feel that way when revisiting their alma mater. Still, it’s been a long time since I was an undergrad.

But I think it’s the folding money that triggers the pity. What kind of a person uses cash-money on campus? Clearly someone in need and, frankly a bit out-of-touch. We all use cards.

You must not be from around here.

“Let me help you.”

The other day a student reflected on her community-building work in our social media marketing class:

“It’s also important to create a presence that encourages interaction,” she said.

I can’t get her comment out of my mind, partly because of getting two free coffees and partly because of the riddle of how to write in a slightly-unfinished, slightly-needy way. columbo1-20160205Like how Columbo conducted investigations: you pity the unkempt, needy fellow until you realize he is canny like a fox.

I’ve long puzzled over the magnetism of a dumb sketch. Stepping up to the white board and drawing something badly as a way of explaining an idea is a sure-fire way to invite others in. And they step up—not to correct, just to collaborate.PlaceByRiver-2-20160121 Because it’s sorta fun to draw badly and without the pressure to create art. And it can be fun to think together. And, like presenting folding-money in debit card economy, you clearly need help.

What are you willing to leave unfinished to draw others in?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston, The-Toast.Net

22 Responses

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  1. Cool post. Your thoughts hit on many different levels.


    Kris Livingston

    February 5, 2016 at 10:31 am

  2. What an interesting phenomenon. It’s never happened to me in my off campus world, even though I have grey hair and sometimes attempt to read things without glasses! Do keep us posted – you may never buy coffee again.

    • I’ll keep you posted, Michael. By the way, I enjoyed your illustrations in your book (Inside Conducting). But as non-musical person, the text was far beyond me. Nice work!


      February 5, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      • Thanks, Kirk. I’m pleased you enjoyed the book, somewhat! The stories at the beginning and end of each chapter are fun too, I thought.

  3. Great post! Has got me thinking 🙂


    February 5, 2016 at 1:42 pm

  4. very thought provoking dear Kirk……… I’ll be thinking on this one. 🙂 and I loved the dumb sketches LOL!


    February 5, 2016 at 6:32 pm

  5. What a kind environment within which to work, my sketching pal. Sounds mahvelous! I hope you’re having fun. We miss you. Love this sketch – it looks familiar! 🙂

    Laura (Createarteveryday)

    February 5, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    • It is cool, that’s sure. I miss sketching and I have a bunch of ideas lined up, but I need to find 1.5 hours for grading every evening, otherwise I fall behind. Sadly, I need to put off sketching. when I come back I want to try some wet on wet stuff, like those mountains you used to do. Thanks for the comment.


      February 5, 2016 at 8:33 pm

  6. Well, people have suddenly started offering me seats on the subway…so I know I must look really old and tired. I have mixed feelings about this. But I’m grateful for the seat.

    It’s amazing to me what a little bit of kindness can do to improve your mood too.

    That’s a good place to teach.


    February 5, 2016 at 9:13 pm

  7. What lovely students! Small acts of kindness mean so much.

    Love that whimsical sketch, Kirk. 🙂


    February 5, 2016 at 11:24 pm

  8. That sketch reminds me of a restaurant in the south of France built over a waterfall.


    February 6, 2016 at 12:46 pm

  9. I just wonder to if a coffee shop doesn’t seem like a small community and therefore you would be more likely to show concern for someone there?

    Photography Journal Blog

    February 7, 2016 at 7:36 am

    • Possibly! I suppose the entire smallish campus might fit that category as well. Thanks for the comment!


      February 7, 2016 at 8:56 am

  10. Why do you assume they pity you? Maybe they found you attractive and were hitting on you.


    February 9, 2016 at 10:11 am

    • Thanks, Sister. I suppose that is a possibility: nothing says “hunk” like a fat old guy with a gray beard. Let me rethink this.


      February 9, 2016 at 10:33 am

  11. Wear coat and tie. Do not forget pants and shoes. If the clothes are clean, they will not buy you coffee. Besides, Millennial undergraduates drink those foo-foo drinks, not coffee. Good luck from Planet Old Guy.

    Joe Essid

    March 10, 2016 at 7:43 am

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