Give to the Beggar
Earlier this summer, Alison's family was in town and we made the trek into DC. While there, I was particularly struck with the number of beggars on the street. Certainly there were more on the street than in previous trips due in part to the nicer weather. Yet, for whatever reason, I was particularly struck with compassion. At one point, I saw a man literally eating trash off of the street, right here, in our Nation’s capital. I think that many of us refrain from giving beggars money for a number of reasons, but lately my thinking has been evolving.
In the old model, when I would see beggars, I may have questioned their validity. Certainly you've seen investigative journalists do stories on your local news revealing so-called beggars on street corners who walk away and get into nice cars. We’ve also questioned how a beggar may spend any money that we give them. Will they buy cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs? In those cases, wouldn't our "gift" contribute to their continued problems? We've also convinced ourselves that there are government programs to help these people, and while there certainly are such programs, they can be hard to access.
Although this old way does have some merit, I've started to move towards a new way of thinking. I think that if I give money to someone who asks, the sin is not mine if they use it to buy drugs. Instead, the greater sin would be to refuse to help if I had the means to help. I've begun to carry around small amounts of cash in my wallet. My system is simple; if I see a beggar and feel moved by compassion in my gut, then I’ll pull out my wallet and help. We need to get back to a point where we see all people as humans, looking on all people with compassion. We know what helpless and hopeless looks like, and in those cases, we can help with a clean conscience. I'm proposing that we take each situation on a case-by-case basis and that we trust our own intuition.
I don't think there's a wrong approach. If you decide to not give directly to beggars, but instead to charities that reach out and help them, that's a good thing. If you give small amounts of cash or restaurant gift cards to beggars on the street, that's a good thing. The important thing in this whole discussion is that you help, either by doing it yourself or by empowering an organization to do so. Let’s never forget about these poor souls who need our help.