Sunday, September 12, 2010

when I grow up I want to be cynical...

... some people think me hopelessly silly and naive. I'm ok with that. There's worse things to be thought of. Like cynical and pessimistic... which I used to be both.

One particular evening I was out with my son and another family and we came across a pan handler. I stopped and gave him some change and we kept going. Nothing else was said about the incident. After dinner, on the way back to the car, we passed the same corner where the pan handler was. Only this time he stood holding his cardboard sign begging alms in one hand while the other held the cell phone he talked in to

The friend I was with seized this opportunity as a teaching moment for his son... "See, Son, this is why you don't give to people on the street. They use it for alcohol, drugs or cell phones. If he was really poor he'd use the money he is given for food and not a cell phone."

I don't believe charity works like that. You don't give expecting it to be under conditional terms. I think the only thing that was taught that night was how to make a nine year old little child jaded and cynical.

15 comments:

3puddytats said...

Amen Kat..


Years ago when I was in the military I was travelling from New Mexico to Los Angeles in the middle of August...Just outside Tuscon I got a flat tire and I needed to get it fixed before I headed across the desert...so I limped into a truck stop and found out my ATM card didn't work...so I went around to people bumming a dollar or so so I could get my tire fixed...yeah you could see the tire was flat so not a scam....and although no one offered to repair my tire completely withing an hour I had the $25 necessary to fix my tire and get on my way.

God Bless those kind folks who extended their charity to me and didn't judge, and I do the same for other now now....knowing that not so long ago I was in the same position.

Sara

Just another mad Catholic said...

For me it was when I saw a big issue seller (magazine that homeless people can apply to sell so that they have money for food/ place in sheltered accomodation) eating at a Dehli that my family couldn't afford to eat at when times were good, saw one with a Bike of all things and another with a cell phone.

Call me jaded but now its only the Church and Orders that get my charity.

nazareth priest said...

At Fatima, Compestella and in Rome, the beggars were parked outside every Church and shrine you could imagine...thank God, one Brother with us, who could speak and understand Spanish, told the girls at Compestella to "bug off"...they had been harassing some other people with the same story and he understood and knew they were just in for the "money"...
the problem is...
this is hard to figure out, as an American, anyway.
We were instructed not to give anything to them because they were "professionals"...
it really tugs at your heart; but if you do give something to one, you'll be immediately swarmed by another fifty...I'm with JAMC...
there are social services (Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity, for one) that care for these people in Europe, especially.
If you want to give something, fine;
but don't go and feel guilty...
it's hard to imagine, but these people do make out fine, at least in Europe.
And as a PS: My greatgrandpa, a surly old dude, when confronted with a pan-handler in the '30s and '40s would offer to buy him a meal; if he didn't want it and asked for only cash he brushed him off.
Maybe there is some wisdom there.

nazareth priest said...

And, as in Sara's case, when there is obviously something wrong and there is a crisis, people will be most helpful.
But, unfortunately, I have had the experience of someone who came to our door, wanting money...I didn't have any to spare (really, we're poor); I offered him a peanut butter sandwich (which was my lunch) and credit for gas at the pump across the street; he looked at me with a curled lip and answered, "Uh...got any cheese?"...
Well, if you can't eat what the inmates ate, you're outta luck, buddy!

Just another mad Catholic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Just another mad Catholic said...

Two examples of when I've been on the recieving end of true charity.

It was last April when I was stranded in portugal when the Icelandic volcano was erupting; the following sunday I had been told that it would be friday before I would able to fly out and the airline wouldn't pay for the hotel anymore; I'd had to borrow about £178 off my father and wouldn't be receiving money until my grant and loan came in the next day.

Firstly a fellow stranded passanger who I'd met at the hotel gave me 50 Euros on the airporto bus and secondly once I'd taken the bus back to Fatima (as hotel rooms are cheaper and I needed to go to confession)a retired priest from my diocese whom I'd met the previous week and gotten on really well with offered me a bed in his flat (he's lived in Fatima since his retirement).

In both cases charity was given without being asked for.

Dymphna said...

You said you used to be cynical. I'm just realizing the extent of my own cynicism. What, specifically, helped you to shed that cynicism?

Elise said...

Don't know about where you live, but in the State of MI, there are a couple of programs where low-income folks can get free cell phones, with a limited amount of time for talking and texting. This is done in an attempt to help people get jobs.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think people should really think carefully if they believe the people to whom they give the money are going to use it to get a drug fix. If you have good reason to believe that (and I don't know under what circumstances you would have _good_ reason to believe it) then giving the money is enabling self-destructive behavior. Same for an alcoholic. This isn't just a matter of being cynical and not wanting people to exploit you and buy a cell phone. And it's not just a matter of not wanting to give "conditionally." There's nothing wrong with trying to give in such a way that you don't help people to actively harm themselves. The kind of charity that keeps an alcoholic drinking alcohol is a cruel charity and can keep him on the street.

Mitch said...

I just watched the movie Becket and when Archbishop Elect Becket was giving all his stuff away and the monks protested saying that the blankets he was giving out would be sold for drink, and Becket said "then it will keep him warm."

We should give with mercy, and not cynicism. I work at a homeless shelter and many homeless people have laptops, have cell phones, and drink alcohol. Does this mean they don't need help or perhaps that many of them have stunted maturity and have a hard time making good decisions with their money. Or they have mental issues and may do well with their money when they are mentally healthy, but then they go off kilter again. It is a complex issue and I don't blame you for not wanting to give cash at street corners, one thing you can do is give McDonald's Dollars out. And if your not comfortable with that, then come down to a homeless shelter and help give out food at lunch and talk with these people, you can really learn to see Christ in these people.

Also on the cell phone thing, until we put all of the pay phones back in, how are poor people to make calls about odds and ends job offers, to get a hold of family, etc. They have no other means to do these things so they have to get their own phones. At least phone booths were egalitarian in that anyone could use them.

NBW said...

My family and I were in the city and a pan handler asked us for money. My husband gave him a five dollar bill and he started yelling at us saying that that wasn't enough to buy a loaf of bread. Now I only give to Catholic organizations. It seems as though some of the pan handlers are getting more aggressive and heckling people if they don't give money. Not much humility about their situation there.

Theocoid said...

In response to those who think it absurd for a homeless people to have phones and bikes, let me just point out some realities.

Actually, they often have to get phones so they can attempt to find work or financial assistance. If there's no number to call, there's no way to contact the person. These aren't your 500-minute plans these people use. They buy a TracPhone and add minutes as they can. As far as bicycles go, how else can these people get around? They can't take buses, for Pete's sake. They typically go and pick these up at thirft stores and pawn shops. Otherwise, they walk everywhere all day. If they don't have some means of transportation, they have no chance of getting temporary work or getting to and from shelters.

Granted, many panhandlers are not in need, and some do disgustingly well at it. I tend not to give money directly but to give food or items that someone clearly lacks. However, I agree with Kat that charity isn't about what they do with what we give.

NewYorkPearl said...

I agree w/ Kat, too--my church is in an urban area after "white flight," and we have many homeless who come to our backdoor ministry for lunch. I think part of "the distressing disguise of the poor" is that they do use the money they get unwisely--some are the outcome of generational poverty and never had a chance to learn any different. Deferred gratification isn't part of their behavioral dictionary. If I give a dollar or 2 to someone (when the backdoor is closed) I don't put strings on it. If he uses it for alcohol, well, I don't want him to go into withdrawal on the street w/o medical care. It's a lose/lose situation. There but for the grace of God go I.

Truthfinder said...

Just a note on cell phones. I know some charities here collect and distribute cell phones to homeless that are not connected to a plan, the only number they can dial is 911. Obviously some are using their phones for more personal use, but sometimes these phones are the only way for the homeless to contact emergency services.

Dr. Eric said...

I think the question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we're attached to the money we grudgingly give out to the homeless. We attach conditions and rationalize and make excuses. I passed up someone today and when I thought better of it and decided to give him the dollar I had (I only carry credit and bank cards) he was already half way down the exit and the light had changed.