You are walking on the street, going about your business, your stomach content, your rent and bills paid, money in your purse, smartphone in your pocket, and you see a beggar – an old bearded man, all dingy and moldy, or a child in rags, or a woman with a pitifully uncanny expression or her face, or perhaps some disabled person. What do you do? What should you do?
You don’t like the smell and you walk by.
Or the sight makes you uneasy and you walk by.
Or you deplore their poverty and walk by.
Or you think they have done something wrong and deserve their faith and you walk by.
Or you think it’s not their fault and pity them but think there’s nothing you can do and you walk by.
Or you think that answering the call to action on the cardboard he or she carries – usually asking for money – won’t really solve his or her problem, and you walk by.
Or you are simply in a hurry and you walk by.
Or you don’t walk by at all. You pause and think for a moment.
That he or she is there is (probably) not your fault, except (perhaps) if you believe strongly in collective guilt and how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can unleash a hurricane on the other side of the globe.
That he or she is not really your responsibility is (probably) correct, though of course if we return to notions of collective guilt…
The fact of the matter is that if you walk by, you have nothing to lose and nothing to gain.
If you give him or her something, on the other hand, you do have something to lose: money and time as well.
But don’t you have something to gain, too?
A smile? An earnest thank you?
Or maybe only a frown, which you may well get if you give him or her coins, while your fashionable dress suggests you are a person of quality, with money in the bank, and time for blogs such as mine.
So, rationally speaking, walking by makes sense, in most cases, at least.
But we are not only rational, we are also human.
For my part, Sunday, when returning home from the cinema, I came upon a homeless person (without a cardboard), I took from my grocery bag (which contained tea and fruit) an apple and handed it to him.
He took it and nodded his politely.
Bucharest is full of homeless persons – I have long thought about what one should do when encountering one. I have considered the matter from a philosophical, rational, as well as humane perspective.
I think that the best thing to do, in most cases at least, is give them food. It’s healthy and it shows concern. If you can listen to them as well, that’s even better.
Money, it seems to me, often does them more harm than good, as many of them buy drink or cigarettes with it. Not all of them of course, and if they have an honest face, money is preferable to food. But generally speaking, food is, in my opinion, better.
That apple of mine hasn’t solved the beggar’s problems, but it has given his life a different taste, for a little while, and if I mentioned it here it was not to brag with my good deeds, for I often feel I don’t do enough for my community, but to have the opportunity to ask you the following question…
What do you do when you come upon a beggar or a homeless person?