Although Ron and Deborah are compelled to love and serve the downcast by their Christian faith, Ron discovers that his own ego often interferes and taints that noble desire. Through Ron’s journey of learning to relinquish his own self-superiority and view the homeless people he serves as friends and equals—rather than as lesser individuals whom he is graciously helping—the memoir argues that to truly serve someone and have the greatest impact, one must learn to set aside their own ego and treat the people they are serving as equally valuable as themselves.
Ron’s initial charity work and even his first months serving at Union Gospel Mission are tainted by ego, illustrating how one’s ego can be tied up in their efforts to be charitable and compassionate. As millionaires, Ron and Deborah attend black-tie charity galas and donate thousands of dollars to various organizations, often being celebrated for their generosity and having their pictures published in the paper. Ron takes pride in this work, but Deborah sees through it and recognizes such charity strokes their own egos as do-gooders as much as it helps anyone else. During their first months at Union Gospel Mission, Deborah is quick to accept the homeless people as they are and loves them regardless of how she is treated, but Ron is secretly repulsed by them and assumes that they must in some way deserve to be homeless. As a wealthy, successful man, he cannot help but see himself as above them, a higher quality of person, demonstrating how one’s ego can quietly and subconsciously affect the way they view the people they are seeking to serve. Even though Ron’s charitable acts are acts of compassion and admirable to some degree, he does not truly love the people he is giving money or time to and, in his own mind, considers them below him. Ron’s own retrospective narrative suggests that this sort of charity cannot have any lasting impact on the lives of those who supposedly benefit—they have been given one more meal, perhaps, but they have not been valued or loved as people.
Once Ron begins to see the homeless people as equal to himself, he starts developing meaningful relationships with them and having a noticeable impact, demonstrating the way in which one must set aside their ego and any beliefs in their own superiority to love and serve others in a truly effective way. After a homeless man angrily confronts Ron for thinking that he is better than the people he is serving food to, Ron begins to consider that “maybe my mission wasn’t to analyze them, like some sort of exotic specimens, but just to get to know them.” In this critical moment, Ron realizes he has not been treating the homeless as people who are equally valuable as himself, but as subjects who have something wrong with them. This simply continues the condescension that the homeless already receive from society. Therefore, the greatest thing he, or anyone can offer, is to treat the people he meets like an equal, as opposed to looking down on them, as “decent” society already does.
Ron and Deborah’s relationship with the homeless community blossoms when they additionally begin hosting movie nights and birthday celebrations simply as ways to spend time with those affected by homelessness, sparking joy and offering a brief reprieve from the difficulties of life on the streets. The more consistently they do this, the more that people in the homeless community begin opening up emotionally and sharing what brought them to this point in their lives and what they hope for the future. This again suggests that the simple act of getting to know someone can be a powerful way to love them, but can only be achieved once ego has been set aside and the people one is trying to help are treated as equals and as friends. Ron’s relationship with Denver is also similarly held back until Ron realizes that he has been egotistically seeing himself as an “indulgent benefactor,” which Denver can sense and prevents from trusting him or opening up to him. As Ron learns to set his ego aside, Denver begins to trust him and their relationship grows. As long as Ron maintained his internal ideas about self-superiority—even though they were never spoken—this could not happen, and Ron would never discover how much Denver had to offer.
Ultimately, Ron and Deborah discover that as much love and friendship they give to the homeless community, they also receive back, suggesting that the love they have given has in turn given birth to more love from and between those individuals. When Deborah is diagnosed with cancer, many of the homeless people they have developed relationships with rally together to pray for her and offer their emotional support. Not only have Ron and Deborah impacted the lives of others, their own have been impacted as well. This mutual exchange of love and friendship reinforces and highlights the equal standing of Ron and Deborah and the people they set out to serve and love. The story thus suggests that learning to love others and view them as equals—rather than pitiable people in need of “indulgent benefactors”—not only provides the greatest impact on those one wishes to help, but also on one’s own life as well.
Although Ron and Deborah cannot simply eradicate homelessness from the city, they discover that by forming simple, equal relationships—where ego plays no part—with the people in the homeless community, they are able to bring joy and slightly lessen the burden of those who suffer. At the same time, those same people reflect that love and touch their own lives as well.
Charity, Love, and Ego ThemeTracker
Charity, Love, and Ego Quotes in Same Kind of Different as Me
It seemed manipulative to me to make the hungry sit like good dogs for their supper. And it did not surprise me that even when Brother Bill split the air with one of his more rousing sermons, not a single soul ever burst through the chapel doors waving their hands and praising Jesus. At least not while we were there.
Another thought nagged at me, though. Could it possibly be something he saw in me—something he didn’t like? Maybe he felt like the target of a blow-dried white hunter searching for a trophy to show off to friends, one he bagged after a grueling four-month safari in the inner city. Meanwhile, if I caught him, what would I do with him?
[…] Sometimes we just have to accept the things we don’t understand. So I just tried to accept that Miss Debbie was sick and kept on prayin out there by that dumpster. I felt like it was the most important job I ever had, and I wadn’t gon’ quit.
“You asked the man how you could bless him, and he told you he wanted two things—cigarettes and Ensure. Now you trying to judge him instead of blessin him by blessin him with only half the things he asked for. […] Cigarettes is the only pleasure he got left.”
And now that Deborah was gone, I had begun to suspect [Denver] felt like a hanger-on. I didn’t feel that way about him at all. In fact, during her illness and since her death, I had come to consider him my brother.