On philosophies of giving

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

3 thoughts on “On philosophies of giving

  1. Same. I often give something to beggars now I can afford it, even if they are pretty obviously panhandlers who don’t need it.

    Denying beggars because they don’t deserve it is expressly forbidden in my religion (because to God we are all beggars) but the “encouraging you to persist at the begging game” one always worries me.

    No matter whether I give or not, I’m never 100% sure if I’ve done the right thing.

  2. No matter whether I give or not, I’m never 100% sure if I’ve done the right thing.

    I guess that’s the somewhat frustrating part. The “good” thing to do from a moral or indeed christian point of view probably is not always the same thing as the “best” thing to do, if we are taking in terms of overall outcomes.

    Sometimes it seems that even the simplest decisions are massively complex! :)

  3. Walking up and down Spring Garden Road, in Halifax, has to be the most difficult and heart wrenching thing I can do. There are many beggars there, asking for food, money and/or travel.
    I’ve always been taught that you treat others the way you want to be treated, so it was never a big thing for me to give a few bucks to someone on the side of the street.

    I saw a man one day, driving down the road in a mustang, beautiful blue, shiny and new. I recognized him as someone I had given money to a few days before, looked to a good friend of mine that I was with, and had a fit because somehow, this homeless man, was driving a car, whereas I was still borderline broke and struggling to figure out if giving my last few dollars for that week to him, was worth it. Obviously not.
    She took me back to her place and made me watch a documentary that explains how panhandlers and beggars have a society type thing, and that they are often far more taken care of then we are.

    It was a real eye opener to me, and to this day, I won’t give money to any of them – we have SO many options here in Halifax/Dartmouth for those that don’t work, and if they choose not to take them, then I’m sorry, but that can’t be my problem.
    Don’t get me wrong, passing beggars and handlers on the road, makes my heart hurt so much it drives me to tears sometimes. I can’t stand it, but I have to just keep walking, otherwise I’d spend my entire paycheques on people that are more than likely actually doing well.

    As for Christmas or other holidays, even birthdays, I am a very sentimental person, and I honestly would prefer to write you a letter stating what you are to me in my life, how I cherish you and how wonderful you are. Gifts are wonderful yes, but only as long as they last. I would rather give you my thoughts, my heart and let you see what you are to me. That impression/gift lasts much longer.

    (sorry for the novel, Guy)

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