I had a very interesting, and somewhat controversial conversation with a good friend yesterday. And I’m sure that this is something that we have all had a bit of a think about. Homeless people. Specifically the beggars. Living in South Africa, I don’t think there are many of us that can say they go through a day without encountering, or at least seeing, a beggar on some street or street corner.
The question is this; do you give them money? I mean, surely that is the ‘right’ thing to do. For those of us that earn a relatively decent living, surely giving a little is an obligation in the move to being a decent human being? But how many of us brush them off? How many of us ignore the fleeting moment of guilt and reply with a line like “Sorry, not today” or “Sorry, I don’t have anything on me”?
I think the majority of us do. Unless we are having one of those really happy days, where parting with the change in your pocket is the least of your worries. But, after every encounter that I respond with a white lie regarding my current financial holdings, I have a bit of a think. Why is it that I feel so justified to keep the change in my pocket?
I have rationalised it with the fact that I cannot give one beggar and not another. That it would be unfair to give my change to one guy, when I know that another one is waiting just around, or rather on, the next corner. That is valid argument, although it has roots in self-justification rather than being fair. I have even figured that giving money is not only condoning, but actually supporting that lifestyle. They are not looking for work or making a plan because they have no need to. They get an income begging, so there is no motivation to get a job. But then again, how many of them are capable of employment? I mean, I always think that if I was in that situation, if I was in those extreme street-ridden circumstances, I could make a plan. I would give my self a wash in the ocean, make a plan for clean clothes and go looking for a simple job. Even if it is just as a car guard. But is this a valid perspective to hold?
Personally, I believe in making opportunities, not just waiting for them to fall into my lap. I was brought up to think like that. However, someone that has not been luckily enough to be brought up in an environment where that kind of thinking is propagated, may not be capable of thinking like that. Sure, every now and then you hear a story of a guy that has begged his way to a position where he can pay for some qualification that will provide him opportunities, but is that to say that the capacity to think in those terms is born with all of us? Is it not something that is taught? Is it not something that is learnt as we grow up, from our education or environments? So can we really hold beggars accountable for their position, if they do not have the capacity to think in terms of opportunity creation?
This post is littered with questions that I have not been able to find answers to. Questions that may, simply, have too many variables and factors that are outside of my knowledge or understanding to be included in a relevant answer. My friend made some really good points about financial handling. He said that he would rather give money to a charity that knows how to use that money to its full potential. They could take R20 and make it worth more than a beggar on the side of the road could. I figured that using that money to buy some jam and a loaf of bread, making sandwiches and giving it out on a Sunday would be a better plan than giving it to some glue addict. Alleged glue addict. The truth is I do not know. I am in a quandary of mixed feelings regarding this topic.
I consider myself a good, generous person. Why am I more willing to buy a friend a drink than give it to a stranger in need?