Giving Thanks for Giving

Giving ThanksDid you see the blurb in the paper or on Facebook about the incident that happened on the CTA Blue Line train involving a homeless man a couple weeks ago? It really caught my eye.

Courtney White and his wife Tanya Prewitt White were inbound from O’Hare airport on a Sunday evening. They noticed a man who appeared to be homeless dozing in a wheelchair. Independently they each were moved to give some money to the man in the wheelchair. Tanya reached into her purse and pulled out several bills, meanwhile Courtney reached into his pocket and also pulled out several bills. As they approached their stop at Irving Park, Tanya handed her bills to Courtney who put them with his own and slipped the wad into the man’s wheelchair bag. As the doors opened, the two exited onto the dark platform.

Meanwhile, another man on the train, Jack Stankovic, observed this random act of kindness silently. He picked up his phone and snapped a picture of the good samaritan couple as they exited the train. Looking around, he saw that most of his traveling companions were oblivious to the interaction because they had their heads down staring at a screen. He got off the train a few stops later. When he got home, he posted the picture on Facebook with a message that read:

Please share. These 2 people must be put on blast. I am on the ‪#‎blueline‬ heading towards the city when I spot something rare and sometimes unheard of. There was a disabled homeless man in a wheelchair sleeping, this guy in the picture reached over and slipped some money into the homeless man’s bag. No one else noticed but me. This wasn’t spare change, and the homeless man wasn’t a bother or asking for anything from anyone. This couple got off at the #‎irvingpark station. Thank you sir for reestablishing my faith in humanity. You sir are a true gentleman. ‪#‎cta‬ ‪#‎goodsamaritan‬ ‪#‎karma let’s all share and thank this guy and his girl.

By Thursday, four days later, over 60,000 people had shared it. As of this afternoon, 96,919 people shared it.

According to a city count conducted in early 2015, 6,700 people in Chicago are homeless. Other estimates are that over 125,000 Chicagoans were homeless in the course of 2014-15 school year, based in part on the 20,205 identified as homeless by Chicago Public Schools. 87% lived doubled up, others in shelters, motels, parks and other public places. The vast majority–98% were children of color. 11,447 were identified as unaccompanied youth–age 14-21 living on their own without support of family or guardian.

In Chicago, Lawyers United for the Homeless, are working to make a better life for the homeless by supporting the shelter, soup kitchen and case management services at Franciscan Outreach. These lawyers provide financial support that helps to keep these programs operating at full capacity. They also volunteer to serve meals at the shelter and soup kitchen. The Lawyers United for the Homeless deeply realize the benefits of giving.

Giving and Well-Being

Research abounds showing that the effect of giving is to create well-being in those who give.

A 2013 study by United Health Group reported that employees who volunteered in service reported feeling healthier, said that volunteering put them in a better mood, that they felt less stressed, and that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life.

A Harvard Business School study showed that donating to charity has a similar relationship to well-being as doubling household income–in poor countries and rich countries alike. The same study reported that students who were told to spend a small amount of money on someone else were happier than students told to spend it on themselves.

A study conducted by the U of Wisconsin yielded similar results: employees who give back are more likely to assist their colleagues and less likely to quit their work. Donald Moynihan, one of the authors of the study, said that helping others actually makes us happier.

Altruism is not a form of martyrdom but operates for many as a part of a healthy psychological reward system.

The benefits of giving are not only psychological, but they translate into tangible rewards as well. One of my favorite reads over the last several years was written by Wharton Business professor Adam Grant: Give and Take. He divides the world into Givers, Takers, and Matchers. He reported research that showed that Givers, those who give of their time and effort to helping others, end up achieving more success in their work lives. Salespeople who are motivated to help have the highest income; engineers with highest productivity and fewest errors are those who do more favors for colleagues than they receive.

Lawyers Giving

How fortunate for us that we are part of a profession with core values that include giving–an expectation of public service and pro bono publico. Those principles of professionalism are referenced in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct. They are aspirational goals.

In the Preamble it is explained that as lawyers, in addition to our responsibilities to serve our clients, we have two sets of additional duties: as officers of the legal system and as public citizens with a special responsibility for the quality of justice. Service, including pro bono service, falls into this last set of responsibilities.

We do report our service in our annual registration documents to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, though. The ARDC report for 2014 shows that lawyers are answering this call.

Over 92,000 lawyers are registered in Illinois; 70% or a little over 45,000 of us have a principal address located in Cook County. A little over 30,000 lawyers reported they provided over 2 million hours of pro bono legal services and about 17,000 lawyers reported giving over $14,270,521 in monetary contributions to pro bono legal services/organizations. These are impressive numbers, but we can engage more.

As I travel the state talking to lawyers, I am struck by how much service resonates with us. Serving others is large part of why we became lawyers. To give voice to the voiceless, to defend the defenseless. To help those in need get a roof over their heads. And sometimes it’s simply volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

We lawyers tend to spend a lot of the day in cerebral activities. Intellectual challenge and legal advocacy are what we do in our day jobs.

But it is rewarding to our hearts rather than our heads to connect with others in a basic and human way.

That’s what the man in the wheelchair story taught me.

Thanks for Giving

Returning to Jack Stankovic, the guy who took the photo of the good samaritan couple and posted it on Facebook. After he took the photo and before he got home and posted on Facebook, a very important interaction occurred.

As the story later was told, Jack explained that before he left the train at his stop, he woke the man up, shaking him gently on the shoulder. He told the man that someone had put some money in his bag. As Jack explained, he didn’t want the man to groggily reach down and pull out of his bag his water bottle or something else and inadvertently dislodge and lose the gifted money. So Jack’s stop came up. After he got out of the train and before the train pulled away, Jack looked back at the man from the platform. The man in the wheelchair had a happy but confused look on his face like, “Why would anyone do that?” Jack went on to explain…

You can’t put into words the feeling that I had that day. It’s like everything was right in the world for a brief moment.

Note, Jack himself didn’t give the money. But he witnessed it and was a messenger of giving. He was buoyed by the generosity of others.

Thank you all for your contributions. Thank you for sharing and for being out there witnessing the grace of giving. Thank you for making everything in the world right for a brief moment.


This post is adapted from the keynote address I gave November 17, 2015 for a gathering of Lawyers United for the Homeless.

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