Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm the jerk?

When I arrived at Grand Central last night, I had some time before the next train home even arrived, let alone departed. So I bought a Snapple, sat on one of the bottom level's pew-style benches, and started reading my copy of the New York Post. A panhandler approached me and asked the familiar line, "Could you help me with something to eat?"

Having picked up a few things after work, I had a shopping bag in addition to my usual carrying case. I placed them on the floor, between my feet, since keeping them next to me would make them easier to steal (directly or surreptitiously). This beggar didn't smell or look dirty, and he also approached only me, when the bench's other occupants didn't have packages. So in case he tried to snatch something, I quickly drew my feet together tightly against my bags. It wouldn't guarantee he couldn't pull one away, but at least he'd have to bend down, leaving the back of his neck vulnerable to a downward blow. I take defending my property very seriously.

"Sorry," I replied dryly. Then the little bastard muttered, "Jerk," and walked away. I'm a jerk, though he "rebuked" me as if he were somehow entitled to my money? I retorted, "Get a job!" He may not have heard me, but at least I did my homage to Ted Nugent. Once on Sean Hannity's radio show, he said, "You want a cure for poverty? Get a job!" And he is right. I recently saw a man near the MetLife building, holding up a sign that included, "$20 can feed my family for a week." Then let him get a job, which at minimum wage will net him $20 in only a few hours. Or is it too profitable for him to sponge off others?

There's a verse I was thinking of today, where the Apostle Paul wrote, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Could angels test the character of men from time to time, asking for help? Quite possibly, but I really doubt one of God's angels would call me a "jerk" just for what I said.

This black man appeared to be in his 40s, able-bodied, and capable of an honest day's work. So what's his excuse, white people's racism? Illegal immigrants take the jobs he would do? "Disabled vet"? Well, I don't give handouts anymore, period, whether to beggars in the transit system, the vagrants who hang around where I work, or the couple of women I've seen on Fifth Avenue. Remember the punk who rides the subway claiming "The government doesn't give me enough"? And the other one who was on 54th and Broadway, shaking a cup of coins at pedestrians while munching a burger?

Tonight I did some more shopping. How much food could I buy for those less fortunate with what I spent? A lot, to be sure, but I don't feel selfish or guilty at all. I work damn hard for my pay and will dispose of it by my own desires, not according to some ass who calls me a "jerk" when he should be out there working. But I do believe strongly in helping those less fortunate -- helping them effectively.

Charity in its only true form is done by individuals and not government, proven by the colossal failures of FDR's welfare state, LBJ's failed "war on poverty," and George W. Bush's post-Katrina blunders. There are too many scammers and drunkards, though, and others just plain lazy. How can one tell who needs help the most? Well, I can't, not with my limited time, so instead I give money to the Salvation Army, which has a pretty high comparative advantage in performing charitable services. Also, I don't attend church regularly but try to give generously when I visit one, in the hope that some will make its way into the church's ministry for the poor. That sort of giving, I believe, is ultimately more effective than handing a few dollars to any panhandler who asks.


Blogger Steven Tomer said...

I might have said this before, but: I'll never give money to panhandlers, but if someone asks me for something to eat, I'll offer to buy food for them. I've only twice had someone take me up on that (those who are really in need). Every other time, they act like I'm a jerk. I think this is the easy way to separate those who really need help from those who are just trying to scam me.

Thursday, September 07, 2006 12:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Shamus said...

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Works pretty well here.

I don't worry about being "scammed". A few bucks lost is a small price to pay for helping the needy. I'd rather give change to all of the one-legged men I meet, rather than refuse them all because I know some of them just have their leg tucked into their pants.

But when it comes to "do unto others", I know that an able-bodied man does not need my spare change, and that I would only be prolonging his idleness. I can't make him choose a real life, but I can avoid enabling his life as a beggar. If I were in his shoes, I hope that people would point me in the direction of the way out instead of giving me change to make me go away. That's what I'd want done to me, anyway.

Thursday, September 07, 2006 4:31:00 PM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

When younger, I might have been persuaded by the sight of a physically handicapped person. There's one I occasionally see on 53rd Street: he has an artificial leg. However, modern medical technology, and the fact that our society is so non-agrarian, has made it possible for such people to live productive lives and even sustain themselves. You also never know what government services they already receive, or if they have family supporting them.

A while back I heard of some college students who posed as street beggars as part of a class study, and it turned out to be so profitable that they kept doing it after. Giving up a few bucks doesn't really harm me, but a beggar can successfully repeat that several times during an evening, and I just refuse to support that anymore.

Once upon a time I considered getting a bunch of cards from various job agencies, and giving those to the beggars, but I decided not to bother. Perhaps I've lost so much faith not in people's ability to help themselves, but in people's desire to help themselves.

Saturday, September 09, 2006 5:29:00 PM  

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