A friend of mine posted a picture of a t shirt on Facebook yesterday that read: “I’m Sorry For What I Said When I Was Hungry.”
I recognize that the shirt’s message is intended as a joke, but underneath the joke is the, at least half-serious suggestion, that I ought to be excused for what I say when I haven’t been fed well. That others should understand that when our stomachs are growling, and we are distracted by our desire for food, we should be given some slack. It doesn’t express true sorrow, remorse or repentance, so much as offer an excuse for what we might say or do in the face of our hunger.
What makes it really a joke, in my mind, is that most of the people who would wear such a t-shirt or post a picture with its message are never really hungry the way people who can’t afford enough food are. By hungry we tend to mean, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch so I’m feeling a bit peckish. Or, I’m dieting and so am a bit irritable because the yogurt or fruit I had for breakfast wore off a few hours ago. And so we exclaim, “I’m starving to death.” That is not the hunger of those who live in abject poverty.
The first thought that came to mind when I saw the picture of the t-shirt was: I wonder whether we would give the same slack to the poor. Do we forgive the homeless beggar on the corner who says something abrupt or rude to a passerby, recognizing his hunger means he is not at his best? You can substitute various versions of the question, but I fear they would all be answered the same.
And not in a way that is to our credit.