Every year, I wake up to find past middle-aged to old men standing around campus handing out New Testaments. “I guess it’s Gideon season,” I think to myself as I take the small green book. It’s like seeing a relative for the first time in a long time. I always seem to forget they even exist right up until I see them again. Even though I may not buy into their brand of salvation, I certainly hold a level of respect for the work they do.
Any member of a campus group has probably handed out pamphlets, information, candy or anything else his or her group may feel the need to distribute amongst the student population. The work is not exactly rewarding. Trying to reach the student body is no easy task. Who can blame them?
According to numbers that my instinct tells me to make up to sound official, 50 percent of the pamphlets handed out are not very applicable to the audience that receives them. The other 50 percent gets broken down fairly quickly as well. There’s the 15 percent who are simply overwhelmed by everything else, (probably busy passing out pamphlets of their own) there’s the 20 percent who are genuinely apathetic and there’s the 10 percent who commute anyway. If you’re lucky, the other 5 percent will take your pamphlet within genuine interest and concern, and may even promise to be there. But even then you haven’t won half the battle. Even within the well intending 5 percent, you’ll be lucky to get a quarter of them to come. So, essentially, you end up getting 1.25 students for every 100 pamphlets.
I’m not here to simply cast down judgmental claims. People are busy. It’s tough. There’s no real need for an in-depth analysis into an imagined crisis of low student involvement. In the end, it’s about attitude and approach. That’s why I respect the Gideon men. I have yet to see one of them with a surly look on their face or an expression of frustration at the kids who feel the need to collect as many New Testaments as they can. They’re pros at what they do. Organizations should take notice of that. Handing out free Laffy Taffy to further their cause just comes across as disingenuous, and then any group who genuinely just wants to hand out Laffy Taffy without a catch (MU Smiles Day, anyone?) ends up coming under suspicion.
The organizations alone are at fault here. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve watched pass by with a hardened stare at the ground, headphones firmly placed in their ears. Even worse are those who simply reserve themselves to flat out ignoring any attempt at interaction. It doesn’t take much to say “No thank you.” Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out about something you’re actually interested in. Or even worse, maybe you’ll be able to hold basic conversation with another human being. It’s likely the person trying to solicit you doesn’t want to be there either, and the less sympathy you show, the more blame falls on you for not being a decent human being.
It’s easy to forget we’re all in this together. The friendly looks on the Gideons’ faces remind me every time they have their own lives to live. In the end, they’re simply offering something they think will help people get along.
If they have to canvass to do it, then so be it. There will always be groups on campus to solicit and there will always be only a small target of people that end up taking notice. You’re better off accepting the system as it stands and trying to be friendly to those stuck with pamphlet duty. They’re people too.