It’s that time of year again. A time when we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, embark on a consumerist frenzy, get together with family and friends, set out milk and cookies for the patron saint of Coca-Cola, or at least some of the above. It’s probably a good time of year to reflect on giving; how we like to give, how much we give, and whether or not we’re each individually giving enough back to society.
Each weekday morning on the way to work I walk across London Bridge amidst a stampede of workers (five or six abreast) leaving London Bridge Rail Station and marching north into the City. There are usually one or two homeless people sitting almost wedged against the bridge wall, precariously close to the swinging leather shoes of city workers as they bustle past. Quite often actually, the odd person does seem to stop and have a bit a chat with them, which is always a cheering thing to observe. In general, however, its hard to imagine a more disheartening scene from the point of view of someone sitting down there, on one of the busiest pavements in London of a working morning. Amidst the wintry gloom, it must be possible to watch the cold heels of thousands of people as they scuttle past, people who in their focus on the immediate task of getting to work, really don’t seem to care about anything or anyone except themselves.
This thought leads me to give some consideration to my own working philosophies of giving, and how I give. I certainly don’t volunteer my time as much as I would like, although I am an inveterate indirect giver; I donate regularly to several charities. In more direct situations however, involving collectors on the street or indeed beggars, I tend to be less generous. When I’m out and about around shopping centres and the like, I do tend to be focused on the task at hand, and while I’m careful to be polite, I usually don’t engage with collectors. I’m not a spontaneous person – I am a planner. Beggars and the homeless all too often present an array of questions to the rational component of my brain too complicated to be answered in the seconds that pass as I walk by. Do I have change? If I give you some change, what will you spend it on? If I pull out my wallet to see if I have change, is it likely to be snatched from me? And perhaps most definitively, if I give you some change, am I effectively encouraging you to persist at the begging game and to postpone attempts to find a lasting solution to your troubles?
Au contraire, in walking by, am I just being a bit of a coldhearted git?
This is the truth of my giving – I think it would be great in the comments if you could reflect on your own, and challenge yourself and your own preconceptions. Let’s try to be constructive rather than judgmental, eh? Everyone’s circumstances and indeed, everyone’s psychology on this matter can be quite different, often with good reason.
Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo