On Not Giving Money to Beggars

I just came back from the grocery store where I bumped into this woman asking for money. She had two kids with her, and she told me a story about how she needed to get a hotel room for $43. She was either sincere or a good actor: I couldn’t tell. So I gave her $5.

Every time a beggar asks me for money, I generally say “no.” And this has bothered me for years. Part of me thinks that the stories they tell me are lies and what they really want the money for is drugs. I’m sure that’s true for some of them, but it can’t be for all. The problem is that I don’t know who’s honest.

Sometimes I think that the cynical part of me is there to help mask my selfishness. Perhaps I simply don’t want to give them money and finding an excuse makes me feel better. I often say to myself, “I have a close friend who’s a social worker in LA and he tells me not to give money to beggars, because of the social services available to them.” But even if my friend is right, that’s for LA; it may not apply here. Maybe there aren’t sufficient social services in Saint Louis.

Maybe there are and maybe there aren’t. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I act like a selfish person when in doubt. I don’t know anything about the number of social services here, but I assume that there are enough of them. And what do you know? It also makes me feel better for not giving them money. I don’t know if any of the stories they tell me are true, but I’m going to assume that they’re not. And what do you know? It also makes me feel justified in not giving them money.

In addition to being selfish, I think there is another reason why I generally don’t give money to beggars, and it’s because I don’t want to feel like a fool. I don’t want to be the person who believes in their fake stories. I suspect I've been fooled multiple times in the past, and I don’t want it to happen again.

Here’s a question: Am I willing to forgo giving money to honest beggars to prevent the chance of feeling like a fool? Apparently, I am, even though I don’t think it’s right.

Here’s another question: Who am I to try to determine whether or not beggars are being honest? I’m not the best judge of character nor do I possess high social intelligence.

I also try to justify my stinginess by pointing to my financial situation. “Right now, I’m a poor grad student who has to plan out his finances,” I say to myself. "When I get tenure, I'll start being more generous. I'll start carrying around dollar bills just so I can give them out," I say to myself. But maybe that’s the lie. Maybe that’s the story I shouldn’t believe.

It seems that I'm very charitable to myself but not to beggars.

MA Dissertation Word Cloud

This is a word cloud displaying the most common terms I used in my MA dissertation, which was on the development of the natural diversity of human capacity.


On Being Proud of One's Race

I recently watched two documentaries related to White supremacism, and they made me realize that I don’t emotionally understand why anyone would be proud to be of a certain race. Why be proud of being White? I’m not proud of being Asian at all. I didn’t choose to be Asian, just like I didn’t choose to be male. I just happened to be born in a particular way.

This connects to a larger phenomenon that I don’t understand, and that is that people are proud of things that they didn’t achieve. Some American-born people say that they're proud to be American, for example. I find this to be a weird expression. Perhaps they like being an American because of the rights and the quality of life that they have, but being proud of it? I don’t get it. Maybe I have a too narrow of an understanding of the word, but personally, I'd only be proud of an achievement that's significantly attributable to my own actions. So I'll be proud when I complete my PhD, because that's something I, Jason, will do.

One of my friends suggests that people are proud of a particular trait when they find it to be good and when they possess it. Therefore, when someone says that she's proud to be x, it means that she thinks she’s a better person for it. This interpretation of pride certainly explains the meaning of the statement, “I’m proud to be American.” Anyone who says this can be plausibly interpreted as saying that she thinks she's a better person because she's American. This also clarifies one plausible interpretation of White supremacists having pride in their race: they think being White makes them better people.

But even if pride were better understood as my friend suggests, it's not appropriately used in those above cases. Being American is not a great-making property, and neither is being White. Hence, one’s nationality or race doesn’t make one a better person. And even if it were the case that White people, on average, possessed some great-making property that other races did not, it would not follow that any particular White person possesses that trait. Furthermore, for those White people who do possess this great-making property, why not just be proud of the property itself? Why be proud of the White race?

Another one of my friends suggests that the reason why White supremacists are proud of being White is because they lack personal achievements and so they look for a source of pride elsewhere. This is possible. Perhaps they are just mediocre people who mistakenly think that sharing the same race as Bach and Shakespeare makes them in any way better. If this is true, then my advice to them is the same as it is to everyone else: develop your potential in a passionate and nonharmful way.

Tea Parties

Like many people, I was shocked when Trump won the presidency. I thought, for sure, that Hilary would win, because who the heck would vote for a person who’s obviously a con man? Apparently, a lot of people. People whom I don’t know and who aren’t on my radar. Don’t get me wrong, I've always known that my friend circles were selective, that my Facebook feed wasn’t representative of the wider America. But I still believed that, deep down inside, I had a general impression of what other people were thinking and feeling. I was wrong.

But why? Why didn’t I see it coming?

The problem, as I see it now, is that we're more separated than I'd originally thought. Liberals hang out with liberals, and conservatives hang out with conservatives. This is understandable, as people enjoy spending time with others who share their values. But I’m convinced that there is something truly lost when we don’t engage with the other side.

When we're separated, people are demonized and causes trivialized.

After concluding what the problem was, I tried to think of ways to address it. How could I get liberals and conservatives to talk to each other? Well, it just so happens that I'd been hosting tea parties for a year prior to the election, with the sole purpose of being social. And it just so happens that my friend circle here is quite politically diverse. Once I realized that I was already creating the perfect atmosphere for dialogue, my tea parties took on a new meaning. Now they are my attempts to create a micro-version of what I want the wider society to look like.

So yea, I’m trying to rebuild America, one tea bag at a time.

One of the reasons why I think my tea parties provide a perfect atmosphere for dialogue is because every person there is seen as a human being first—not as a conservative first, or as a liberal first, but as a human being first. Labels do matter. Labels do affect how we see and treat others, even if only on a subconscious level. Furthermore, the people at my tea parties are seen as human beings who are also my friends. Knowing that immediately creates a positive connection.

“Oh, you’re a swing dancer? That’s cool, I’ve always wanted to try it.”

Or

“Oh, you’re a scientist? That’s cool. What kind of research do you do?”

This is how you build friendships. You break bread with one another, or, in my case, drink tea. And friendships are what we need. Having a conversation here and there isn’t enough.

To further foster community building at my tea parties, I try to get everyone to engage in a group activity. Last time, we played a physics puzzle game on my smartphone while it was being mirrored on my TV. Everyone was helpful and supportive. It was great. It is my hope that through these group games, my friends will form deeper connections with one another, connections that can only be built upon the foundation of laughter.

I find that there is a special bonding experience that takes place when I laugh with another person, that isn't achieved via conversation. I'm not sure why this is, but it may be because when we laugh, we reveal our characters. What we find funny is an indication of who we are as people. So if another person finds the same thing funny, it shows that we are similar at least in one important aspect. Perhaps another reason is because laughter creates positive moods. I can't speak for others, but when I'm joyful, I'm in a mental state that lends itself to friendship building. Moreover, being sociable leads to more laughter, which, in turn, fosters more positivity.

I have no idea if my efforts will bear fruit. However, even if I fail, I would've at least spent my time with wonderful people.