Timeless Spirit Logo    ARTICLE

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. November Theme: "Unique Perspective"
Volume 2 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265

Index Meet Our Staff Free Subscription Donations Come Shopping Advertising Archived Issues


by Derek Wilken

On March 17 1995 I was invited by the Eau Claire Toastmasters Club to give a presentation at their annual awards ceremony. At the time I was living in a downtown shelter and was hoping to join the club to improve my public speaking skills. When I contacted the president he thought my story was funny, and invited my participation at the ceremony. Seeing this as an opportunity to both amuse and educate, I set about creating the following talk, which I entitled "The PWOMWBFY Speech."


"Toastmaster members, guests and distinguished serving staff;

Just as a way of introduction, my name is Derek Wilken, M.D. The M.D. is honorary and stands for Manic-Depressive.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to present in front of such an august group. To be honest I originally did not plan to be making this presentation, and only agreed when your president pointed out my life was a joke that should be shared. You sure have an interesting recruitment method.

My initial reason for contacting your organization was to assist me in a consulting assignment I have recently undertaken. My assignment was to prepare a feasibility study on implementing a 'Toastmaster style' Public Speaking course for use by my clients. Your president thought it was a comedy routine but I'll let you be the judge of that.

I am told it's customary for new members or guests to give a brief life history and an explanation of the events leading to the decision to attend. This caused some disagreement among my Board of Advisors. My social worker thought it would be an empowering experience, my psychiatrist thought maybe he should increase my medications, my parole officer thought it might count towards my community service and my lawyer advised me not to say anything without first being served with a subpoena. Despite their concerns I agreed.

I was born in Saskatchewan and raised in Alberta; this makes me ignorant and arrogant about it. My motto is "I know nothing and can damn well prove it." I wasn't diagnosed with my condition until later on in life and this is a direct result of my rural upbringing. Apparently there is not much difference between clinical depression and just being a farmer talking about his crops.

I was first diagnosed with my condition after a family member drove over me with a Volvo. From this I learned two important things; one was I had the condition now known as Bipolar disorder and the other is what it is like to be run over by a Volvo.

For those of you that don't know… it's bumper, ground, muffler, ground, out. The last thing I saw was a tire with 'Goodyear' on it and I remember thinking, well probably not this one.

This change in my health status also necessitated an overhaul of my daily routines. I now needed to take drugs, some of them prescription, in order to cope with my condition.

The drug I am prescribed is Lithium. It is similar to the dilithium crystals used to power the Starship Enterprise, only they are to keep me out of warp drive. When one enters the arena of mental health you can't help but be struck by the ironies of the system; for instance, some of the drugs that are used to lessen the impact of your symptoms often cause more harm through the side effects. And often these effects are not known even by the Doctors.

For instance I tried a new drug last month and I called up my Doctor and said the side effects are terrible - I have a headache, was vomiting and had severe diarrhoea, I became delusional, wandered outside was picked up by a pack of roving teenagers, beaten and left to die. He replied, well did it give you a dry mouth?

I have now had this condition for over 10 years and I am becoming aware of the signs that are the beginning of an episode. Mania is characterized by an increase in motivation, energy and a general feeling of well being. So when I feel there's hope for me, that's when I know I'm sick. But enough about me, let's get to the reason I'm here tonight.

As I mentioned I am here tonight as a representative for a neglected segment of society. Although I am not currently a member of this group, I do have deep ties to the community. I am here not just to outline our plans, but also to educate others to their situation.

The group I represent, like many others in today's world, is known by an acronym. They are known as PWOMWBFY'S. This stands for "People Without Money Who Beg For Yours." I'm sure you each have your own special name for them.

Although it would be stereotyping to classify them all as mentally ill, alcoholic, drug-addicted social outcasts, for the purpose of tonight's discussion it is a good starting point.

I was asked by the PWOMWBFY'S to update their solicitation techniques to reflect the marketing improvements of the past few years. As I delved into this project I felt an enormous reluctance within the membership to tamper with a process that has been in use for centuries.

Despite the reduction in revenues and the increased hostility of the public to these fund raising practices, traditionalists balked at the concept of change. The only way I felt I could succeed would be to appeal to their intelligence, by conducting a thorough research project. As we all know, today's PWOMWBFY'S are far more educated and a significant number are drawn from fields such as advertising and customer relations.

In order to lower the member's resistance to new solicitation methods, I first had to show them the reduction, in graph form, of traditional sources of revenue and funding. They could then be shown the corresponding increase which could be anticipated with more up-to-date methods.

To do this I felt more relevant statistical measurements would be needed to track the membership's revenue potential and expenses. Unlike the general public, PWOMWBFY'S are unable to use the widely accepted yardsticks to chart their economic deterioration.

For example the Government of Canada produces a monthly indicator called the consumer price index (CPI), which is used to show the percentage of increase or decrease in an average basket of goods and services. This means very little to a person whose dietary intake consists of stale donuts, expired milk and Prozac. As you can see new indicators were needed to give relevance to my research.

The first indicator I constructed was to give an overview of the memberships' economic position. Thus the BLI or "Barely Living Index" was formed. The BLI is a Macro Economic statistic used to determine the gross, (and I mean that both ways,) potential revenue available to the members. This would include welfare, professional care workers, church and religious handouts, deposits from empty bottles; and of course, panhandling. Each category was broken down into its current percentage of total income and given projections for increase or decrease.

Welfare, which currently provides 52 % of the average members BLI was quickly ruled out as a source of future increases. Polling results showed any increase would rest with the political clout of the remaining 7 NDP supporters in the Province. For the purpose of discussion we looked at workfare as a potential source of income.

This was ruled out; as the idea of giving angry, disenfranchised individuals sharp sticks and plastic bags then sending them out into the public seemed too ludicrous.

Professional care workers were found to add 16 % to the average PWOMBFY'S net income. It was felt that as they themselves were being professionally and personally squeezed by financial concerns they did not seem to be a viable group to access further resources.

The Government's "Open Door Policy" in releasing formerly locked patients to the community was testing the professional's commitment level. After years of treating patients who were heavily sedated and in secure faculties there was a reluctance to perform house calls. As expected an exodus of professionals from the care industry ensued, with them taking their degrees and experience and applying them to new professions. This resulted in a great deal of confusion for some of our members. After years of referring to them by their professional designation, it was difficult to get used to saying "Oh waiter".

Church and religious orders made up just over 14 % of the average PWOMWBFY'S BLI. This figure was somewhat misleading, as there were often unplanned side effects from receiving this type of funding. In return for hot meals and clothing, members were often encouraged to listen to sermons of various denominations. Problems were first detected with the delusionals, as they began professing to be the divine entities of 4 or more denominations. This problem became more acute when they tried to access their regular therapist and were denied because of the "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" policy of their new workplace.

Bottle picking or dumpster diving which makes up 11 % of an average PWOMWBFY'S gross income is another example of where traditional economic yardsticks did not address the realities of the street. It's true that each bottle is worth a fixed price, but as each PWOMWBFY'S living standard is different, the number of bottles required to maintain their unique BLI varied greatly.

For instance, the number of bottles needed to maintain an apartment would be substantially more than for someone whose overhead is yesterday's newspaper. Thus a sub index was created to tie the effort from bottle picking to a precious street commodity. Sort of a poor man's gold standard. Thus the EBPPOS or "empty bottles per pack of smokes" sub index was created. It was felt that by using this yardstick we could not only track the effort required to purchase a valuable commodity, but if they said the acronym often enough it might cure some of the slurring and spitting while speaking.

When all of the data was tabulated it was found panhandling, currently representing 4 % of the average BLI, had the most upside potential. This came about mostly as a result of the non-smoking regulations of most downtown buildings. Controlled studies showed conclusively workers forced outside were a desperate, hopelessly addicted group who would pay almost any amount to be left alone with their weed. This was a group we could relate to.

The promise generated by the controlled studies forced us to do a more detailed market research, but since we did not have the economic measurement device; once again we were forced to create one.

We combined the EBPPOS with a contact count and came up with the PBPPOS, or "persons bothered per pack of smokes" sub-sub index. It consisted of the average revenue per encounter, total number of encounters per hour and time spent washing off pepper spray.

Early results were most promising. By comparing the PBPPOS sub-sub index of 8-10 with the EBPPOS sub index of 100 and more, it was easy to convince my clients of the economic justification in improving panhandling techniques. Other societal changes, glaringly obvious even to the most whacked out, also helped to sway the members.

The traditional centuries-old appeals done on the basis of pity and compassion were becoming less and less successful. Unrelated studies noticed a severe drop in the average person's GAS or "give a shit" level. Many times PWOMWBFY'S were being stopped in mid speech and being forced to hear their potential customer's woes. Sometimes we were even giving them money and smokes!

Even the old standby of wearing old dirty clothes and not bathing for days wasn't having the desired effect. It seems most people just figured we were computer programmers.

Clearly a new approach is needed.

Selling the idea of participating in the Toastmasters program to my clients will require not only stressing the advantages, but confronting their fears as well. Most PWOMWBFY'S are reluctant to join professional organizations. I'm sure they will be relieved they don't have to shave their heads and hang out in airports, again.

I will also let them know the secret handshake is pretty easy and for a change they can pay their dues in money. One aspect I'm sure will win them over is your 10 speech program for the development of an erudite speaking style. This dovetails nicely with other 10-step programs currently in use.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone here for the opportunity to use this meeting as a sounding board for my proposal. I hope in some way this will lessen the chasm in our groups. Maybe laughter is the Communication Bridge we need.

So the next time someone comes up to you on the street and asks for a dollar for a bottle of Big Bear, don't be afraid to offer constructive critique on their sales pitch. Thank you."

Derek Wilken

Derek Wilken is a Teacher, Comic and the Creative Dictator of the CHEERS project inc. You can find him on-line at the Cheers Project. Watch the Cheers Project for us on an upcoming CTV Documentary called "The Heart of Laughter"… or "Soon to be a CTV Movie of the Week"

Copyright (c) 2004 by Timeless Spirit Magazine. All articles are the copyright of the particular writers and cannot be reprinted without their expressed permission. All rights reserved. International copyright laws prohibit reproduction of or distribution of this page by any means whatsoever, electronic or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permission of the copyright holder. We retain legal counsel to protect our copyrights.

Any advice given is for informational purposes only.