YOU DON’T see many wise tramps these days.
The movies and TV shows of my youth were packed with potless, twinkly-eyed drifters dispensing sage words before shuffling away into the night.
That whole “he has nothing yet he has great wisdom” vibe was quite big in the 1980s, so it was something of a disappointment for me to stumble into adulthood and discover the harsh reality that tramps are just as clueless as the rest of us. Sometimes more so, on account of them drinking two litres of White Lightning for breakfast.
So when a wise one like Billy Ray Harris pops up, we should take note.
Mr Harris is a homeless man who lives on the streets of Kansas City, USA. Well, he did until Fate intervened. When a young woman accidentally dropped her diamond engagement ring into Mr Harris’ begging cup, he gave it back.
To say thank you, the grateful woman rushed off to the internet – where else? – and told the story. She also set up a web page in the hope of raising $1000 for the big-hearted hobo.
Inevitably, the page went viral and the campaign has so far raised $150,000 for Mr Harris. So where does his wisdom come in?
Well, here is his response: “I don’t deserve it. What I actually feel is, ‘What is the world coming to when a person returns something that doesn’t belong to him and all this happens?’”
And, of course, he is right. Nobody deserves a massive reward for simply not being a thief or, at best, a cold-hearted opportunist. He is flabbergasted that so many people – quite possibly the same ones who begrudge paying taxes to help poor people without the foresight to illustrate their fundamental decency in a modern-day parable – think otherwise.
But then, being a tramp, I guess he does not realise that this is how humanity works nowadays. He has made the mistake of assuming that people actually thought about this.
Oh Billy Ray, thinking is so last millennium. Thanks to social networking, we are now like a huge flock of starlings, hurtling en masse one way then, with a sudden jerk, another. We do not think, we just go with the flow, haemorrhage whatever is required – cash, outrage, sympathy, LOLZ – then move on.
From kindly tramp to dead marathon runner, from African warlord to photographs of men who may (or may not) be James Bulger’s killers, the online mob rushes around like a hyperactive toddler, high on emotion, low on facts.
And here is the good news for Billy Ray. With his newfound wealth, he can buy a computer and a house with wi-fi, and join us in our headless rampage. Lucky beggar.