Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

NYPD’s Lawrence DePrimo: Good Intentions, Not Good Results

December 6, 2012 9:10 pm 2 comments

New York City police officer Lawrence DePrimo gives a pair of boots to a homeless man.

I am sure that most feel a sense of warmth and compassion deep down, after reading the very moving recent story, and seeing the accompanying picture, of a police officer handing a pair of boots to a homeless and barefoot man.

And we should. There is nothing more meaningful and inspiring than seeing an act of true goodness being done by someone, when it is obviously for no reward. (It’s not like the police officer commissioned a photographer to take that somewhat unclear picture!)

So I am sure that most also share with me a sense of surprise and heartache to see this update on the story from the New York Times, of the same homeless man sans shoes once again.

It is truly tragic that this man has fallen on such hard times, especially as it is reported that he is a US army veteran. Yet this story highlights precisely why it is so hard to care for such a person, as I will point out.

The following is in no way meant as a criticism of the beautiful kind act of NYPD officer Lawrence DePrimo. Nor is it a judgment of the unfortunate homeless man Jeffrey Hillman. Rather it is meant to highlight that which we all ought to think about.

There are four possible reasons that I can think of, as to why this man is no longer wearing his new boots.

First, the man’s own admission. Being that these boots are relatively valuable ($100), his ownership of them puts his life in danger. In the dark alleys of homeless New York, how is a man to defend himself against robbery of his valuable possessions? So, in his words, he had no choice but to hide them!

Second, he sold them. Why would a homeless freezing man, sell the only source of warmth for his freezing toes?
It is possible that he was so hungry that he had no choice. Or it may be that he had some other very pressing need that he felt was more important than avoiding getting frostbitten.

Third, possibly he is unwell, emotionally and/or mentally. Perhaps for him being homeless and cold is the only lifestyle that he is ‘comfortable’ with. And being wedded to the life of homelessness and cold he did the “irrational”. Unfortunately there are too many cases of individuals who were helped to come in from the cold and fill their vacant stomachs, set up with a job etc. only to revert back to their former helpless lives in a very short time.

And finally, He may be fully aware of his surroundings. If you notice he is panhandling outside a shoe shop. How much more effective are his collection efforts, when he forces you to contrast his barefoot homelessness, with your warm feet? Especially when you may very well have just bought yourself a fourth pair, or a fourteenth pair; which for the most part will spend its time in the closet.

Either way, when walking past such an individual who is hurting, which decent fellow wouldn’t want to help him? So how is one to effectively help this man?

This brings to mind an important teaching of the Kabbalah. There are different sides to kindness. There is the kindness that we all share. That is the desire to give to others. Whether gifts of friendship, presents to relatives, or even strangers. This builds relationships and is habitual kindness.

Then there is a more advanced level of kindness – compassion. To give to someone who is in need, who hasn’t necessarily done anything to deserve your friendship or kindness. This is the admirable compassion of that police officer.

But both kindness and compassion may sometimes be lacking. It can be misguided and ineffective, as we have seen above. What we need here is a level of kindness that is deeper still. Not to give what I need or want to give, nor to give how and to whom I want to give; but to give that which the other needs to receive.

If the fellow is correct that the new pair of boots became a magnet to thieves. Then actually by giving him a nice pair of new boots one is doing him a disservice. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, a second-hand pair that perhaps even had a hole or two, would be so much more suitable.

If the real story here is that this man is mentally unwell, then what is really called for is some tough love (as difficult as that may be to carry out). This man may need medical help, perhaps some therapy or medication from a professional therapist or psychiatrist. No matter how much assistance he receives with his external symptoms, little will be achieved. Deep love, which in this case would be tough love, would demand leading him to get real help, even if that is not what he says he wants.

This takes thought. This takes understanding. This takes a deeper approach to kindness, compassion and love. Not just to act on our natural instincts, but to be guided by the mind, to assess the appropriate kind of kindness needed by each individual person and situation.

It may be hard mental and emotional work, but the dividends are worth it. This type of love is so much more effective.

So the next time you have an opportunity to give, think about this:

You can give with your hand.
You can give from your heart.

But even better would be, to give using your mind.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Book Reviews Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    Can ‘Islamic Reformation’ Work? (REVIEW)

    It is cocktail hour on an April afternoon in 2004. The sun is hot on Amsterdam’s canals, and I am sitting at Café den Leeuw on the Herengracht with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali is still a member of the Dutch Parliament, and we talk about Islam. Specifically, we talk about the concept of “moderate Islam,” or what she calls “liberal Islam.” And she has one word for it. “It’s absurd,” she says. “It’s complete nonsense. There is no ‘liberal […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →