Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Questions How to Handle Begging

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother told me that we should always share with those who have less than we do. To that end, I give to my church, and I occasionally give to people who beg on the street.

The other day, I was walking on a street near my home when two different men seemingly came out of nowhere begging for money. One of them was loud and insistent. I had just completed a meeting with a client, and I had no money in my pocket to spare. Well, the loud man got louder and started yelling at me for not giving him money. I thought this was excessive. He may have been mentally impaired. What should I have done in that situation? I just kept on walking. -- Paying the Homeless

DEAR PAYING THE HOMELESS: You are not obliged to give money to people who ask you for it. Sadly, there seem to be more homeless people on the street these days, and yes, many of them are mentally and emotionally challenged. That is likely why that man was so belligerent. In situations like that, it is probably safest for you to ignore the person. Engaging someone who is loud and aggressive is not a safe option.

In general, though, when someone asks you for money on the street, even if you choose not to give them anything, you can acknowledge them. I will say, “Good morning. Have a good day,” or something similar. If they press for money, I say, “I’m sorry. Not today.” Recognizing the humanity in others is an important part of life. I believe that some people who find themselves living on the street or otherwise in dire straits often feel invisible because passersby don’t even see them.

DEAR HARRIETTE: A woman I know from a social club I belong to complained all last year about her husband in graphic and rude terms. Now they are divorced -- no surprise. What is odd is that she has started talking about how mean he is and how he doesn’t give her all the money that he promised. She calls him ungrateful and on and on with the negativity. I can’t help but wonder what she expected. She talked about this man like a dog. Now she’s acting like the victim. I’m not so sure. I do know that I don’t want to get caught up in the discussions about their marriage. I don’t want to take sides, especially since I doubt that I would take hers. What can I say when she starts complaining about him? -- Messy Divorce

DEAR MESSY DIVORCE: It is never good to get involved in the details of other people’s divorces. Rarely is the uncoupling handled in a loving, respectful way. Typically, hurt feelings run rampant and nasty words are flung about. When your friend asks your opinion, tell her you do not want to be involved. Even if she urges you to take sides, tell her you want to remain her friend; therefore, you plead the fifth. No comment on her marriage. Period.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)