I see beggars and homeless people every day. Some of them are begging for money, some are not. And I, passing by them, am a man who does not have to think about whether he will have food on this day or not. Do they need to be helped?
This is a difficult question. As someone once said: “If you don’t give, you feel like a miser; but if you give – you feel like you’ve been taken for a ride.”
Here I must point out that this issue is indeed complex, and I have no definite answer for it. What one may find below is but a reflection on the topic.
A place where this topic is actively discussed is the Internet – especially Christian websites. The main question asked by the participants of any such debate is how to distinguish those who really need help from scammers. Or from those whom we may harm with our help (like alcoholics who will immediately get drunk with the money they receive).
Yet I propose going about it a little differently…
Instead of giving all of one’s attention to the beggar, I suggest paying attention to one’s self.
Any action either raises us up in terms of our energy level, or throws us down. So this help – if we offer it – where will it shift us?
It may seem that even if we can harm a beggar with our help, we certainly cannot harm ourselves. But I believe that this is not entirely true.
Behind any action there is intent. This intent determines what vector our action will give us.
Our intent is usually invisible to others, but we always know of it in our hearts.
Do we sincerely want to help? Or do we just wish to calm our conscience? Perhaps we cannot refuse due to weakness of character? Or we seek to earn the grace of God?
Do we give money with a sense of respect for another person, who simply was not as lucky in life – or do we give with a feeling of pity? Do we give with a feeling of disregard, rejoicing that we are not standing in their shoes?
Accordingly, I believe that if we cannot give with the right feeling, then we should not give at all. To give, one first needs to cultivate the right feeling.
As an alternative – which, of course, is much more difficult – we can cultivate the necessary feeling directly through the act of giving. How? For example, by not just giving money, but by taking a homeless person to the nearest café and buying him a meal. This being the very least one can do. But – if we picture a typical bum in our minds – it really is challenging.
I read about an old Muslim tradition that existed in Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century. Paupers were invited to the open luncheons of the rich merchants and aristocracy, and they sat at a common table with their mealtime benefactors and conducted conversation with them on equal footing. At lunch time the distinction between beggars and non-beggars was obliterated.
And I think that this was a good custom. I doubt that it has survived to modern day. Which is a pity…