Instincts, Second Thoughts and the Gift

by Alli Polin on January 12, 2016

what story are you telling yourself

The weather report said it would eventually warm up to 31 degrees but this morning was frigid. All I could think about was staying warm. The Australian summer was only a memory as I hailed a cab with my children in NYC last week. For a moment, I wished I had gloves and earmuffs or had just stayed under the covers. Then again, on a cold winter morning, who hasn’t had second thoughts about starting the day.

Luckily, my kids and I had a warm hotel room with a soft bed, thick winter coats and a great breakfast with hot drinks at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. That afternoon we were also headed to a Broadway matinee; life was good. We decided to do some shopping before our show – shopping in NYC is nothing like shopping in the biggest town in the Australian Outback.

As soon as we left the restaurant, the arctic air hit us and we walked in a tight pack to the corner. We waited for the light to change and tried to stay in a huddle to keep warm.

While waiting, I took a quick glance down the block and noticed a figure enclosed in a blanket with a small cardboard box for change in front of them. Their face was obscured by their thin cover and for a moment, I considered averting my eyes and pretending that I didn’t see them. The light was about to turn green in a minute anyway. I had my kids to consider too, they were cold and needed to get inside without a long detour.

Clearly I should keep on marching.

Isn’t that what most people do when they see someone who’s homeless or begging on the street for money? Look away? I’m not saying that there is a right or wrong answer when it comes to giving money to people who live on the streets nor am I trying to open a debate. All I know is that I reached into my wallet, took the kid’s hands and changed our course.

Humanity won.

Goodness triumphed.

Standing in front of the almost frozen human being in front of me, I said:

“Excuse me, I don’t want this to blow away.” 

He uncovered his face and took my ten dollar bill.

“Thank you. I’ve been out here all morning and now I have seventeen dollars. I need forty-eight dollars by one or they’ll kick me out of the place where I’m going to sleep tonight. Can you spare anything more?”

Without overthinking, I went back into my wallet and took out my last bill, a twenty and some loose change. I told him:

“Now you have the forty-eight you need. Go get warm.”

I took my children’s hands and we walked away feeling good knowing that the thirty dollars we gave him would not make us suffer but would be meaningful to him.

A good deed. A mitzvah. One human helping another.

That’s when my thinking brain took over – and not for the better. Second thoughts dominated my internal dialog and external chatter. 

My body was tense, my thoughts were angry and in half a block I went from joyful to stressed.

… I gave him a ten and he asked for more? Really?

… Chances are he’s still sitting there giving the next person who stops the same story.

… He’s probably going to buy drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

… Now I need to find an ATM that will take my bank card. I’m sure I’ll be charged fees too. What a pain.

OMG what happened?

Suddenly I mattered more than this person?

Suddenly I needed the thirty?

Suddenly I was better than, smarter than and all round more deserving?

Suddenly giving was a mistake?

I went from opening my heart, to opening my wallet to squeezing every ounce of the goodness out of the deed. All that was left was judgment and frustration that I was such a sucker.

An hour later, on our way to the theater, we walked down that same street; he wasn’t there. Maybe he moved to another street but maybe he took his forty-eight dollars and was in from the cold for one more night.

I’ll never know what happened to him but I do know what happened to me. In that moment, I chose to let go of the part of the story that had anything to do with me. When I handed him the money, it wasn’t about me and it still isn’t.

Tell me your story in the comments below. What would you have done if it were you?

Break the Frame Action:

I had a moment of choice when I saw the man under the blanket. I am sure that you face many similar choices every day. The more you notice these decision points, your initial instinct, and where you betray yourself, the greater your ability to make a change in the moment. If you want to learn to leave behind those second thoughts and second guessing, start here – with noticing.

For the next three nights with journal in hand, reflect back on the following:

  • When did you have a moment of choice? (maybe it was to hold a door open, or give up a parking spot, or clean up the messy break room at the office)
  • What was your gut, your first instinct?
  • Did you go with it or do you talk yourself out of it?
  • If you honored your sense/gut, what did it feel like?
  • Did you betray your sense/gut? What did you do/say/feel?
  • ** What story are you telling yourself?


{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass January 12, 2016 at 6:07 am

You did do a mitzvah Alli! And you modeled for your children how to reach out to those in need.

I sometimes walk past people in the street but once my daughter handed a man a sandwich and he complained that he didn’t like turkey. I let that go too and we decided we did the best we could.

If we live by our values we will always be drawn to make the right choice.

xxoo Terri


Jon Mertz January 12, 2016 at 7:14 am


A great action to take. I know I am guilty of being caught up in my own rush and ignoring people who need some help right near me. Although I cannot solve every person’s problem, helping out in those moments make that human connection, which builds our legacy more than anything else we may be caught up in. Your story shows this clearly.

Thank you for raising our eyes and action.



Gary Gruber January 12, 2016 at 8:15 am

We either believe and trust that someone is telling us the truth and not scamming us or we question them and ourselves and our motives. When you give freely and pay it forward, your only thought need be in that moment and not about what might or might not happen afterwards. You give without counting the cost, not in dollars or euros or pounds or pesos, but the cost and the value of the interchange between one human being and another. When I give someone money, I want to know them a little more and often ask them to tell me their name and, if appropriate, something of their story. I am often curious about their background what’s happened to them. My daughter once said to me, “Dad, you talk to everyone.” I said, “Yes, that’s probably true,” and she said, “Did it ever occur to you that everyone might not want to talk with you?” I laughed but I still talk to people, maybe not everyone.


Blair January 12, 2016 at 8:59 am

A beautiful story that we can all relate to about why we give, how we give, what happens once we do, and how we trash ourselves with negative stories.
Will make me think over the next few nights, and when I am in the city tomorrow. Great title, too!


Carl January 12, 2016 at 9:47 am

A great lesson Alli – what I know to be true is that we live in a world of abundance (if we choose to) and your gift will not go unnoticed. It will return to you in the form of opportunities. I agree with Terri, you modeled for your children to be open and sensitive, that lesson alone was worth every penny and undoubtedly there were many people nearby who witnessed your act of kindness – there is no way of knowing the far reaching impact your act will take.


Bill January 12, 2016 at 10:32 am

The blogs I read, the people I follow – they have the biggest hearts in the world. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂


LaRae Quy January 12, 2016 at 12:41 pm

A beautiful and heartfelt article, Alli!

This is a powerful statement: “In that moment, I chose to let go of the part of the story that had anything to do with me. When I handed him the money, it wasn’t about me and it still isn’t.”

You were being resilient, because resilience and mental toughness is allowing yourself to focus only on the areas that you are able to control. Forget about what is out of your control…and that is what you did.

You focused on how you could respond to that individual at that time…and methinks you set a great example for your kids!


John Thurlbeck January 12, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Hi Alli

That was a powerful story and an even more powerful message! Gratitude for what you have and sharing that abundance with whoever you can whenever the moment arises is what more people should do. I applaud your action, the role model you set for your children and the depth of honesty about how you reacted in hindsight.

Reflection is great for the soul, especially when you can share it. Giving too is great for the spirit, as it shares the love we all have and that brings untold responses. I smiled at Terri’s story about the guy complaining he didn’t like turkey. Just goes to show that you can’t please all the people all the time. Your story, however, shows that you can be true to you!

Kind regards

John 🙂


Amber-Lee Dibble January 12, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Hello Wonderful Lady!
What you did was a beautiful act, from the heart, for the right reasons. That is all and really, that is everything.
It’s funny because your byline for this post is “What Story Are You Telling Yourself?” ~ A friend of mine and I have been talking a lot lately, helping me to hold onto my faith and sanity as we (myself and my two children) are now living in the hotel for the FOURTH month as we try to get the house repaired enough to move back into it- but the “story we are telling ourselves” she put it- we can completely re-write events (as your mind tried to do to you before you yanked it’s chain back into line) and only see the heartbreak, the ugly, the loneliness and the worries. Instead of seeing and even feeling (like you helping that man you encountered get out of the elements and warm for a night- possibly even saving his life!) the beautiful blessings, the kindnesses, the moments of pure Grace and the warmth that comes from the belief that it will work out.
I miss you all so much and there is so much that keeps me busy and away right now, but know I am still reading the lessons you all share, thinking of you and walking the talk. Every day.


Agatha January 12, 2016 at 11:37 pm

Years ago my partner and I was travelling to meet a friend for a long weekend – it was a 300 k drive which took over 5 hours – when we were close to our destination, we saw a young female tourist who was hitch hiking. I heard how she only had $10 left and when we dropped her of at the campsite I gave her some money. Your story reminded me of her. Although I gave her something, I always wondered if I should have gone to the campsite and checked in and made sure she was OK.


Kaarina January 13, 2016 at 10:19 am

Powerful and thought provoking. There’s a commercial now on TV that shows a social experiment. First, they put a friendly dog on a street in the city. People looked at it, patted it, interacted with it. Then, in the same spot, they put a homeless person with cardboard sign and ragged clothing. Not one person stopped.
You ask interesting questions. I think if we act/react on our gut impulses, we are usually right in cases like this. You gave the person money. I would too. But then, we’re human, right? We second-guess, just as you did. That’s when we need to hold fast to those first, intuitive, gut-and-heart first thoughts and impulses and actions. Those are the ones that are rarely wrong Cheers!


John Bennett January 13, 2016 at 3:58 pm

From the post: “Humanity won. Goodness triumphed.” We all have to be good to ourselves – doing good things for others in need!!! There’s no better ‘win-win.’

Have to say that it is so sad that the other thoughts are not unrealistic, sadly… We hear and read about the scams all the time. Unfortunately, the media seems to believe such stories are the ticket to better visibility, better ratings. I often wonder why that is AND whether scams are indeed more frequent today compared to say 50 or 100 years ago.

Great advice, though, from you: Do diligence with regard to any telltale signs and if it appears good (and if it’s within your comfort zone and available resources), go for it – with no second-guessing.


Brenda P January 13, 2016 at 6:51 pm

I just gained a new admiration for you, Alli!

I’m not sure I would have done the same. I’m so skeptical about people. Maybe I would have given some, but when he asked for more? I don’t think I would have. Does that make me a bad person?

A few weeks back my hubs and I were at the gas station. A man walked over to us telling my hubs about his car having problems and he didn’t have enough $$$ for gas to get someone back to NY. My hubs went over, put his debit card in, and pumped the man’s gas. The whole time I was thinking “This man is going to jump my hubs and take his wallet!”

So honestly, I admire what you did because I think I may have looked the other way, being selfish, and kept walking.

God bless you.



Cynthia Bazin January 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

You are awesome Alli. I am so honored to know you. I appreciate everything about you!


Erin@BeetsPerMinute January 14, 2016 at 9:34 am

There is nothing that makes people feel more purposeful than to give to others. I should do it more than I do and I am actively working on it, but when I can help someone out — maybe only a pound here or there — I will do it. As well as with my time. I focus a lot now on how much I don’t know the whole story when it comes to others suffering. I also remember that over the years if I hadn’t received kindness from others I could have been in a similar situation. Nothing is ever as simplistic as it appears. Great post!


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