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.