June 17, 2016

Against Compassion

sentient_beings_are_numberless_i_vow_to_save_tshirt-p235527916675852797q6wh_400.jpgOutside the ancient offices of the Cosmoangelic Book Publishers that I once worked in at 2 Park Street in Boston, an old lady stood with her back to the old bricks on every working day. A square yard of sidewalk was her office. Eyes behind thick glasses were watery-gray. She stood hunched in a permanent flinch like some dog who'd been struck too many times for nothing. She dressed in clean, shabby, but not too shabby, clothing -- warm enough for the winters and cool enough when summer came around at last. To all who passed by her office she repeated her Bostonian-inflected mantra:
"Spare a quarta?"
"Spare a quarta?"
"Spare a quarta?"

She stood to the left of the entrance for part of the day and to the right for the remainder. You didn't know when she'd shift, but she always seemed to be in your path as you came out of the building.

Going for some coffee?

"Spare a quarta?"

Going to lunch?

"Spare a quarta?"

Going to skip out on the afternoon and catch a matinee?

"Spare a quarta?"

I once spared her a quarta and went into the Boston Commons with a newspaper and watched her work at her job.

"Spare a quarta?"
"Spare a quarta?"
"Spare a quarta?"

She asked everyone. It was the secret to whatever success she had. Since Park Street led from the Park Street MTA stop to the Massachusetts capital building and other large skyscrapers several thousand people a day had to pass by her and hear "Spare a quarta?"

She got a quarter out of about every fifth person. I once estimated she made about $75 a day, tax free. That worked out to a take homeless of $18,750 a year in 1983. Not bad when you considered that she had zero overhead.

No matter how you look at it old "Spare a quarta?" was doing all right and, to tell the truth, I contributed my share. She looked like what everyone fears their mother might become if she fell on hard time, but she wasn't scary. And she had perfect pitch. "Spare a quarta?" was slightly sing-song but never too whining. Just always said with an uplifting lilt right at the end of the opening note of desperation.

If you can't be really good at anything without 10,000 hours of practice "Spare a quarta?" had put in her time and paid her dues in full.

As beggars go she was "The Fantastiks" of street hustlers. Her performance ran uninterrupted and packed her pockets with quarters for years. She's probably long gone to her reward -- be that in Potters Field or in a small house in the hinterlands that she bought for cash. But I like to think that she's still there as the busy people of our era bustle up and down Park Street still shelling out to the refrain:

Try to remember the kind of September
"Spare a quarta?"
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
"Spare a quarta?"
Try to remember when life was so tender
"Spare a quarta?"
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
"Spare a quarta?"

I remember that in those days I had two things for her and those like her, compassion and a quarta. These days I'm fresh out of the former and I never get asked for just a quarta.

On the streets today they've decided they've got to entertain; that they've gotta have a gimmick and if they're gonna bump it, they're gonna bump it with a trumpet." They offer me stories, crazy ramblings, scrawled signs of despair, signs that mock their begging ("Checks No Longer Accepted from These People"), vague threats and mumbles. They sell poems scrawled in a methadone daze, or make blunt demands for smokes now that smokes are half a buck.

I once gave to all who asked. Now I give to none. Once a year I write checks to funds for widows and orphans of police, firemen, and soldiers killed in the line of duty. Beyond that, I find I can no longer spare a quarta. And when I hear, in the back of my mind, the old Depression anthem "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" I find that although I can spare it, I no longer want to give it.

It has taken decades of ceaseless hectoring but at long last my compassion account in the Bank of Human Kindness is overdrawn. I'm tapped out. I still try to care but I find, if I am honest, I couldn't care less.

I suppose this makes me a bad person. In the land that is more and more ruled by those eager to cadge money from me or pick my pockets "for the common good" I'm just no damned good to any of them. It doesn't bother me any more. I have become, as the song says, "comfortably numb."

I've been told, so often and so stridently, to feel this and to feel that and to feel for the downtrodden of the world, that I find I no longer feel anything at all. I don't think I'm alone in not caring. I think caring and compassion, now that it has been institutionalized enough to demand caring and compassion, has finally found its limit.

In a world dimensional, a world of limits, caring finds itself flummoxed by its own best impulses. If we could inhabit any one of the endless utopias proposed to us by the dreamers and schemers among us, all would be well and all manner of things would be well. But we live in the world of sun, rain, dirt, steel and flesh where all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men remain distracted by snake-oil hallucinations of perfection. And that they follow the instructions of their betters to feed these hallucinations of perfection in the fond hope that these toys of the mind will become real. The only thing that becomes real when you reach for Utopia is that those few who crave power over many become perpetual seekers of indulgences.

These indulgences of wish would remain harmless and essentially admirable as long as nothing more imperative or noble calls us. That which calls to us is not the world that may be, but the world that is as we make it day by day. We may, from time to time, be able to spare a quarta only so long as all our quartas are not constantly demanded of us. Quartas to spare can only come from surpluses.

Of late, those surpluses have been converted by events and history into deficits. Put simply, we can, at the present time, no longer afford to fund our ever expanding compassionate state. Compassion can never be made compulsory and cash-flow positive at the same time. Whenever and wherever compassion has been made compulsory the people soon find they no longer have care or quartas to spare.

Posted by Vanderleun at June 17, 2016 1:25 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

This is so fine at many levels.

Wonderful portrait and such a sad hopeful refrain,

Posted by: Cathy at August 26, 2009 3:07 AM

"Whenever and wherever compassion has been made compulsory the people soon find they no longer have care or quartas to spare."

While I will remain "Always Faithful" (http://www.semperfifund.org/donate.html) to my brothers in need, the rest I can't spare for. Hell, the way business is going every quarter counts...in my pocket.

Good post.

Posted by: tim at August 26, 2009 5:30 AM

Well, I can at least juggle when it comes my turn to beg on the streets.

I'd add that all these youth organizations and sports clubs with their hands out are not helping to raise my compassion quotient. I see these kids as beggars, nothing more. The least they can do is have a car wash or some other activity that is useful.


Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at August 26, 2009 6:59 AM

I suppose this makes me a bad person.

No, I don't think so. There is more to compassion than thrusting cash in the direction of every begging hand. Yes, it's good to give, but there's nothing wrong with discernment, in fact I think it's necessary. Sometimes, it's more compassionate to say no.

One of the consequences of modern communications is that it's so much easier for people to show, in gruesome detail, the urgent miseries of the world, and we are inundated constantly with requests for help. But there will always be a gaping hole of needs to be filled, and it is the responsibility of no single person to fill them.

Seems to me you've chosen a good way to do that.

And since quartas are indeed in increasingly short supply, we may all be finding, in years to come, that compassion is given and received in something more and less tangible than money, anyway.

Posted by: Julie at August 26, 2009 8:00 AM

"If we could inhabit any one of the endless utopias proposed to us by the dreamers and schemers among us, all would be well and all manner of things would be well. But we live in the world of sun, rain, dirt, steel and flesh where all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men remain distracted by snake-oil hallucinations of perfection."

Thanks for that....

Posted by: Pete Madsen at August 26, 2009 9:12 AM

You've touched on something powerfully important. An Ultimate Issue as Dennis Prager would say. At the risk of being labeled a Prager groupie, which is probably a fair characterization, I'll paraphrase his take on the issue.

Compassion is a necessary, essential value... in the private. Standards are necessary in the public. This is the divide where left and right separate. The left wishes to apply compassion in the macro. "Some men see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things that never were and ask, "Why not?" - RFK

The left's conceit that, because they are good people, their desire for Utopia will always result in good, leads to policies which take the many quartas out of your pocket to redistribute them in the name of public compassion. The result, of course, is the degradation of character of the needy citizenry and the resentment of the formerly charitable citizenry. If we agree on this, we understand why you (and I) feel the way we do about all the people asking for our money.

But, but, but... I try to fight the misguided ideas of the left at the ballot box, at tea parties, online, and in private conversation and to exercise compassion on the street corner.

I share the following, not because I wish to self-promote, but because I received the idea from a friend and wish to pass it on in the hope that good will be increased in the world.

During Lent this year, I learned that a friend carries granola bars in her car, which she hands out to panhandlers as she comes across them. Being suburbanites, we have the advantage of spending lots of time in the car where we can carry such things. However, I decided to go a little further and bought a stack of Walmart gift cards as well.

I've handed out three so far - our panhandlers are becoming more numerous, but are still dispersed. These three encounters are some of the most profound in my year. I try to make eye contact, ask a question (Can you make it to Walmart? Would you like a granola bar?). Each time, the person has blessed me. Blessed me! I, who am already so blessed. Ah - what can I say? I encourage you to practice compassion one on one.

I've had an epiphany recently. There are two conditions which keep us from bringing Christ to others or others to Christ. The first is self-condemnation. The second is condemnation of others.

God Bless,

Posted by: Western Chauvinist at August 26, 2009 10:04 AM

Western Chauvinist.

That is beautiful.

So are you.

Posted by: Cathy at August 26, 2009 11:09 AM

Yesterday at Target a woman accousted me in the parking lot and asked if I could help her out; she was trying to get money to file a job application or something such story. She wasn't drunk, didn't seem to have the shakes, was clean and I simply couldn't say no. I reached into my wallet and found only one $20---no ones or anything. So I gave it to her. I simply wasn't in compassion fatigue at that moment. She took it and said to me that she knew I must think she would spend it poorly but she assured me she would not. I walked on to my car. But she followed me for a moment and said "God bless you." Her gratitude was palpable. I was glad I had helped her, and that I could.

Posted by: Webutante at August 26, 2009 12:13 PM

A while back I commuted to Manhattan from Connecticut on the Metro North out of Grand Central Station. The was a guy there for years. Big guy, about 6'5". He never said a word but he had the perfect hang dog look. Just stood there with a cup in his folded hands. One evening I missed my train and wandered over to "Mickey Mantle's" watering hole for a drink. He was at the bar drinking Johnnie Walker Black.

Posted by: Roy Lofquist at August 26, 2009 2:42 PM

I think I'm with you there, bro.

I'm a Christian and am thus called upon to exercise some of that old-fashioned compassion for the poor. I have found that the people most eager to hit me over the head with this, however, are those who don't believe at all. I rarely seem to get self-righteous lectures on compassion from fellow Christians.

Well, there IS my cousin's wife, but she is a horribly misguided lefty who still hasn't figured out that Christianity and her political ideals are profoundly incompatible. I try to avoid brawling with her for the sake of family harmony, but my main question for her would be, "What gives a secular government the right to take from non-believers and 'help' the poor in the name of Jesus? Shouldn't we believers be doing that without the government's army of IRS workers behind us?"

It's a case-in-point of something so simple, but which so many seem not to understand: That private voluntary charity is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT animal than public-sector wealth redistribution, no matter how noble the aim or effective the delivery.

And the fact that so many seem to miss this critical distinction, I think, is why many of us are just plain tapped-out, both financially and in terms of "compassion." I sometimes argue with my church minister and/or fellow parishioners when told that I need to "give 10% right off the top." My answer is usually along the lines of, "I'd find that a lot easier to do if the government weren't already taking a frigging QUARTA of my paycheck."

Heh. There's that word again.

Posted by: Cylar at August 26, 2009 11:10 PM

Out here in the urban jungle of Jakarta, it's easy to find all the beggars you could want, some of them as young as 5. Women with babies, too, as well as the occasional amputee or street singer. You can give them quartas (about 2500 rupiah) if that makes you feel good and salves your conscience. Problem is, the kids and women and amputees will only see a small fraction of the money. Look more closely at the major intersections and traffic circles where the beggars congregate. See him? No, over there, sitting next to the motorcycle taxi stand. Yeah, him, the tough-looking guy keeping a close eye on the action. That's the beggars' "handler", who works for the local "preman" or godfather. That's the organized crime boss who runs groups of beggars (who really are poor) to increase his own bottom line. He'll also do really despicable things like take babies from their mothers and give them to other women to hold while begging, to increase the sympathy factor. Sometimes, these women will pinch the kids--hard--in order to make them cry and generate even more sympathy. In return, the street kids and the rest get enough food and money to survive, barely. Westerners are viewed as particularly attractive targets, because we're all "rich", suckers for suffering kids, and most don't know how the system works. But what some other long-term residents and I have started to do is to carry around some local snacks that we can give out when caught at some of the interminable traffic lights (and traffic jams) they have around here. The snacks are fairly nutritious, the women and kids like them, and, unlike money, they're worthless to the thugs. That's life in the big city out here.

Posted by: waltj at August 27, 2009 8:35 AM

I used to give, from time to time. One day my wife reminded me that I do work pretty hard for my money; there were times I did day labor to pay the rent and the bills. She pointed out that everyone has problems, but some of us do something about them and some don't.

Rewarding begging encourages more begging. So now, I don't give any money to beggars.

Posted by: Gordon at August 27, 2009 10:13 PM

Had my epiphany last fall. The agency where I volunteered gives out school supplies to pre-registered clients.
I was checking families in and heard one mom say to another: "Last year, we got..."
Last year? and you're back again? We are not the Endless Carrousel of Free Stuff, nor are we meant to be.
After ten years, I decided to take a break.

Your take on Utopia and good men is golden.

Posted by: Sal at August 28, 2009 5:46 AM

I lived in South India from 1978 to 1979 on a language fellowship. Up the street from my apartment, at the intersection of my small street with the main road, there sat an old beggar with a long white beard and longer white hair. Every day, monsoon or blazing sun, he was there. I would pass him every day averting my eyes. He was just one more of many.

One day, my cook came to me horrified--"you must come right now with me--and bring money." She dragged me down the block first to the coconut salesman, then to the center of the crossroad (to break the coconut, of course), and then to the foot of the beggar.

"He's a good man," she said. "He just does not know. I will teach him. Please forgive him."

Meanwhile, a crowd had gathered about. They were apparently most interested in the transaction and seemed to approve of what my cook was saying.

She then instructed me to empty my pockets, including the bedes, in front of the beggar, to the wholehearted approval of the audience, and then she dragged me from the corner.

"The beggar chats everyday about the welfare of everyone on HIS block. He knows who gives, who does not give, and who should give but doesn't. For a while now, he has been saying that you could give at least a few paisa or an orange. He is YOUR beggar. Do not neglect him in the future."

I give something to them all everyday. Before Shabbat, I also give some oranges. Make no mistake--God listens to their cries.

Posted by: Daniel Jackson at June 10, 2010 2:49 AM

The only people with tin cans I give to when out in public is the Salvation Army, VFW, American Legion, Goodfellows, etc.

William Grahm Sumner wrote 100 years ago "Capital, however, as we have seen, is the force by which civilization is maintained and carried on. The same piece of capital cannot be used in two ways.Every bit of capital, therefore, which is given to a shiftless and inefficient member of society, who makes no return for it, is diverted from a reproductive use; but if it was put into reproductive use, it would have to be granted in wages to an efficient and productive laborer. Hence the real sufferer by that kind of benevolence which consists in an expenditure of capital to protect the good-for-nothing is the industrious laborer." From the "Forgotten Man"

As mentioned in the post, today they are expanding from the simple request to entertainment (does this mean there really is an experience economy?), and the bums understand the overuse of sympathy alone.

Saw a bum on the street corner the other day with his resume: "disabled veteran". How can you stand all day on a street corner with a disability? He was only out there about a week, and I like to think one of the vet organizations I give to, took care of him, one way or the other.

Posted by: Ralph at June 10, 2010 4:20 AM

Saith Brother Western Chauvinist: "I've had an epiphany recently. There are two conditions which keep us from bringing Christ to others or others to Christ. The first is self-condemnation. The second is condemnation of others."

I am going to suck on that piece of heart candy as a mental dessert for the sumptuous feast Gerard hath laid out for the main dish.

Posted by: Jewel at June 10, 2010 6:43 AM

Your lady in Boston was a professional beggar, but I haven't seen one in a long time. For the ones choking my intersections a more honest transaction would be booze or a pill and cut out the middleman.

Most of these people have families who gave everything before they gave up. These people do not see themselves as hard up; they see us far more clearly than we see them.

Posted by: james wilson at June 10, 2010 7:38 AM

One of the unintended consequences of the welfare state is the disappearance of the delineation that used to exist between "the deserving poor" and "the undeserving poor". See Olasky.

Posted by: WWWebb at June 10, 2010 8:48 AM

I only give to the ones missing limbs. (Eddie Murphy in 'Trading Places' notwithstanding.)

Posted by: LS at June 10, 2010 10:43 AM

In an essay on my philosophy of government I said, "I believe citizens of nations have responsibilities to one another, but only those that they collectively choose. There is a social contract in effect but it is worthless if it is not entered into willingly. We do owe every person the opportunity to better their lives. (I call it a level playing field.) But they, in turn, owe it to society to make the effort. Providing help to those unable to improve their circumstances because of health or other legitimate reasons is best done by private charity, religious groups, and individuals, not the government. The Federal Government is too large and impersonal to adequately oversee such efforts. The closer the charity is to the end user, the more likely that it will get to the person who needs it and that it will end when the person no longer needs it." I still believe that.

As to personal giving to family or strangers. That is a matter for personal conscience. Like Gerard, my life experience has shown that most of such giving does not help and oft times makes things worse for receiver. I once gave $10 to a down and out Indian in Seattle. He asked for money for food. Foolish me. Two hours later I saw him being loaded, unconscious, into an ambulance. I have given and loaned money to family members to help them get their lives "right." It has helped only once. None of the "loans" have ever been repaid. Most of my compassionate aid for these people has actually been enabling them to continue to not get things right. When you realize that you are an enabler of failure, it changes your attitude about compassion.

My charity now resembles Gerard's - the Salvation Army, Wounded Warriors, Soldier's Angels, Rocky Mountain National Park, and occasionally others. Those on the street corners that need help can get it through myriads of organizations like Salvation Army, church groups, Health and Human Services (in WA state), veterans organizations, etc. No dearth of compassion for those in need out there - even family members.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at June 10, 2010 11:32 AM

I guess I understood from the day I got my first paycheck that true compassion is giving people the opportunity to work, create wealth and contribute to society. I have friends who routinely give money to anyone who asks. I don't try to bring them around to my position as long as they don't try to bring me around to theirs. And my line to the panhandlers who are aggressive is "Sorry, I gave at the office". Boy did I give at the office.

Posted by: Glenn at June 10, 2010 11:45 AM

I once bought lunch for, and sat & ate lunch with, a squeegee guy named James who worked the Los Feliz Post Office in L.A. Nice guy.

Bought groceries for another squeegee man, Donald, who was working the parking lot of a grocery store in my neighborhood. Another nice guy.

Encouraged by those two positive encounters, I bought an egg-salad sandiwch for a woman begging outside a bookstore in Glendale. She spat at me and accused me of poisoning the sandwich.

Some friends & I were lunching in Burbank. Woman came by selling flowers "for Indian children." After several questions I got her to admit that the "Indian children" were hers. I bought a flower but told her she would have done better to drop the minority sympathy schtick .... I have more respect for people who just work to feed their kids than for people who play the poor minority card.

I don't give anything to any street beggars anymore, period. Not money, not food. Food for the Poor and Catholic Charities (plus the Bible League and our local no-kill pet shelter) get checks from me now.

Though I did lend, over the course of several occasions last year, about $250 to neighbors who were struggling. Got about $100 back. Then they moved away. This was not an insignificant amount of money for me, BTW. Next friend or neighbor who asks for help paying their electric/water/rent is going to get told sorry but no.

"Compassion" is a crap shoot. Sometimes you help someone who genuinely needs it & will make good use of it. Sometimes you just get spit on & gipped.

FWIW I don't see how involuntary (govt coerced) "charity" can be "charity." It's only charity and/or compassion when you do it freely. Otherwise it's just legalized theft by the government so the pols and bureaucrats can feel good about themselves, fark the ones who are actually paying for all of it out of their taxes.

Posted by: bogie wheel at June 10, 2010 3:11 PM

There's a street guy in San Francisco who calls himself the Poetry Man. He wears a sign that says Poetry Man and he also wears a safety vest with a stuffed animal tucked inside, like the bear is his baby. I asked him what makes him the Poetry Man and he told me he would provide a poem for $10. I only had $5 so I asked if I could get half a poem. He said he would give me a whole poem for half price.

I gave him the $5 and he started talking.

Poetically. Musically. Beautifully. He recited a long somewhat rambling poem about music, and the way music can make you feel.

At the end I asked if he had written it, and he said, well, yes, he made it up, but it isn't written down, he just remembers it. And I think he said it changes. I wasn't delivered like a recitation from memory, but more like a story-poem from an oral tradition (which is, I guess, what it is; even if it's a one-person tradition).

I told him how much I liked the poem, and why. I love poems that sound like what they are talking about, and his poem about loving the way music makes you feel sounded a lot like music does when it makes you feel that way. The poem gave me that very feeling.

I don't know whether this guy is homeless or just likes wandering the streets. But it was a nice exchange.

Posted by: Sarah Rolph at January 7, 2013 3:54 AM

There's a street guy in San Francisco who calls himself the Poetry Man. He wears a sign that says Poetry Man and he also wears a safety vest with a stuffed animal tucked inside, like the bear is his baby. I asked him what makes him the Poetry Man and he told me he would provide a poem for $10. I only had $5 so I asked if I could get half a poem. He said he would give me a whole poem for half price.

I gave him the $5 and he started talking.

Poetically. Musically. Beautifully. He recited a long somewhat rambling poem about music, and the way music can make you feel.

At the end I asked if he had written it, and he said, well, yes, he made it up, but it isn't written down, he just remembers it. And I think he said it changes. I wasn't delivered like a recitation from memory, but more like a story-poem from an oral tradition (which is, I guess, what it is; even if it's a one-person tradition).

I told him how much I liked the poem, and why. I love poems that sound like what they are talking about, and his poem about loving the way music makes you feel sounded a lot like music does when it makes you feel that way. The poem gave me that very feeling.

I don't know whether this guy is homeless or just likes wandering the streets. But it was a nice exchange.

Posted by: Sarah Rolph at January 7, 2013 4:04 AM

Jesus never gave anyone money.

Never. Not one thin drachma.

But don't believe me. Search the Scriptures yourselves. Show me one instance of the Savior handing out coin to anyone in need.

You can't. Because He never did it.

Giving to the poor is an act of Christian charity. Do so. Your local Catholic parish supports the poor in your area. Write it -- or some other organization like it -- a big, fat check today.

But don't give money to street bums. It's not Christ-like.

Posted by: B Lewis at January 7, 2013 6:07 AM

I like to give to the Salvation Army. When it comes to the war on poverty, the Salvation Army is down there in the trenches, engaged in hand-to-hand combat against forces of evil we cannot imagine.

Posted by: DHH at January 7, 2013 7:47 AM

Lewis, I think you're fundamentally wrong. Jesus fed the hungry, and even more powerfully healed the lame and blind, and most importantly gave all, that poor beggars such as we might find salvation.

I don't have a lot. I give what I can as the spirit moves me. When I do, it brings me closer to the Lord, because I know that nothing of this physical existence matters. Only the spiritual will remain in the end, and I need to spread all the love that I can. If some poor soul tricks me, well the sin is his not mine, and his is a poor soul indeed. I'm richer, because I still get to keep the love I shared.

Posted by: Casca at January 7, 2013 8:49 AM

Casca: My point remains. Our Lord never gave any money to any beggar. His example is the one we should follow.

Never give money to a bum .
They are all scam artists.
Step over them and put your money in the
Salvation Army bucket.

Posted by: B Lewis at January 7, 2013 9:04 AM

Gerard, your post inspired me to write my own insights into the poor and my experiences dealing with them as an ordained minister, "The Professional Poor, the Idle Poor and the Poverty Traders."

Posted by: Donald Sensing at January 7, 2013 9:43 AM

Reminds me of a story: "I was walking in downtown when a shabby looking fellow approached me and asked whether I would be willing to give him a dollar bill in exchange for four quarters. I happened to have four quarters, so I did. Later that day, a shabby fellow -- maybe the same guy, it was hard to tell -- approached me and said, `Gotta quata?'"

Posted by: Grizzly at January 7, 2013 4:35 PM

I was strolling along Fisherma's Wharf in San Francisco. One particularly honest panhandler had a cardboard sign that read, "Why should I lie? It's for BEER!"

So I asked him, "If I give you some money, how will I know that you're really going to spend it on beer?"

Posted by: Grizzly at January 7, 2013 4:38 PM

I will sometimes give money to a street beggar if they have a story that seems to ring true. (Once gave a guy $5 as he had a sign that said he was trying to get back to Oklahoma. Now that's something you wouldn't lie about!) I don't feel much compassion for those claiming to have children or are pregnant. There is definitely help for those folks.

I've given money to a local group, Blanket Coverage. They give blankets, clean socks, water and a few other items to those living on the streets. They try to get the older bums into programs that help them manage their social security checks and get them off the streets. And I give to the Salvation Army. But I too have run out of compassion.

Posted by: Teri Pittman at January 7, 2013 5:02 PM

I've always believe that it is better to give food to beggars rather than money. They will not make an effort to find a decent job if they can simply have money just by asking to people.

Posted by: Sarah Park at January 7, 2013 8:55 PM

I was working outside on a landscaping project close to downtown. I watched a younger guy (age about 30) panhandling from a traffic island. He had quite the limp, and demonstrated it as he hopped to take the dollar bills drivers held out.

Then I saw him run--flat out sprint--across the street to confront someone. He hit the guy with a hard open-handed slap. I called the police, as I didn't know if he was going to rob the guy or what.

Then he hustled back across to the island, where he resumed his limping routine. The cops eventually showed up and told him he couldn't do it in the middle of the street.

I so wished for a piece of cardboard and a Sharpie. I would have stood behind him with a sign reading, "He's Faking It!"

Posted by: Gordon at January 7, 2013 9:52 PM

Half of our family grew up in Calcutta, when it was still named as such. There was really no "government services" of any kind, other than the railway, police, and British trained administrators. For a large percentage, most likely the big majority, it was a challenge to daily provide basic necessities for themselves and their families. Some organization, perhaps a charity, perhaps a tax funded organization, had a cart that collected the remains of those that had expired and were left where they lay. There was no shortage of beggars. Mother Teresa was a person occasionally encountered, and remembered in family lore.

In all these stories, she only ever accepted food, cloth, and soap. And everyone who benefitted from her efforts, also pitched in at her place. And they were proud to do what they could. Dignity is a fragile but precious thing. Discard it, and you are sowing the wind.

She knew the impact on character, was integral to giving a person their best chance at anything. It was true there, and we need to relearn that here today.
Or we will meet Calcutta as it rises, and we are on our way down.

Thank you dumbocrats, for ruining the best great hope on earth. For a fata morgana of liberal shibboleths.

Posted by: Biryani Billybob at January 7, 2013 10:54 PM

It's been a while since I've thought of this. Many, many years ago I stopped to have lunch in a restaurant, a simple place in the center of an New England small town. As I was eating I became aware of the conversation between the waitress and the two people at the next table.
An elderly woman and a young boy were sitting down and going over the menu. The boy, like a lot of young children for whom the experience of the restaurant was new, was listening to the older woman list all the possibilities on the menu. After a while the child's selection was complete. It was then that the grandmother (as I supposed her to be) pursed her lips and frowned slightly as she reviewed the menu again. She asked about specials and their prices before ordering only coffee. I had been blessed with a small mob of Danish old women; grandmothers, aunts and their friends. All plump and prosperous, from which poured a steady river of pies and cakes and the wonderful Danish cookies still warm from the oven. This elder was not plump. I didn't have much experience with hunger, but I would have said that woman was hungry. Obviously all her funds were earmarked for the boy's lunch.

I found out then that I was missing a vital skill-set. I didn't know how to offer that woman the money she needed for lunch. Not of course how to find my cash and carry it over to that table and put it down, but how to do it without embarrassing either of us.
I haven't thought about this for a long time, but I thought about it intensely that day and from time to time afterward. Some time later I considered I had over-analyzed the whole thing as another example of my own fears.

Fear of refusal, humiliating her, anger. Ruining a self-satisfying moment of sacrifice. Changing the boy's view of the old woman.

There is a statement at the end of the posts on American Digest, "It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.". I agree. In fact I would offer an corollary, “It is impossible to commit an act that cannot be misunderstood”. Since Gerald still puts up the commenting page, he is obviously not asking us to not speak. But don't get paralyzed worrying about how what you might say could be misinterpreted. And don't be stopped from doing what feels right by fear. Since then, I've already made a fool out of myself so many times, today I think I'd walk over put a Ten-spot in the old ladies hand and say,”Growing girls need to eat.”.

Posted by: John the River at January 8, 2013 12:30 PM

Actually, I'm talking about myself when it comes to the Karl Popper quote. Thanks for commenting. Always.

Posted by: vanderleun at January 8, 2013 3:12 PM

I don't want to give money to anyone because they either misuse it or don't need it. I've given food to people or some places used to sell coupons you could hand out for stuff at their store.

But these days, I make so little money every time someone begs for change, I am angry. Yes, miss, with the tattoos and face piercing and I phone and shoes that cost more than my entire outfit, you need my money? You should be giving me change you worthless trash.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at March 17, 2015 10:17 AM

The more they take the less ya give, I've turned to stone.

Posted by: ghostsniper at March 17, 2015 12:13 PM

I was sitting in a rural southern country store eating lunch when i noticed an attractive young 35ish female come in buy a large coke. I noticed because she was not local. i left and she's standing in the parking lot and flags me down. She gave me awful story of her plight, and I told her "Good luck". She needed money but she buys a Coke? A couple days later I see her in a liquor store with a boyfriend. She didn't look like she was doing so bad.

Posted by: mhf at March 17, 2015 1:46 PM

The question of giving to panhandlers on the street is a difficult one for me. Some days I remember that we have literally hundreds of government programs that will feed, clothe, house, and provide medical care and that all these panhandlers have to do is ask and they can receive all of them.

Other days, I will power down the car window and hand a dollar or two to the man or woman at the corner. My city is in the hot, hot west where no one walks, so my face-to-face on-the-street encounters are rare. Generally, my 15 second encounters are met with what seems like sincere gratitude. Still I can't shake the mathematical memory that in a city where literally hundreds of cars per hour pass a given point, a 5% take-rate could yield a pretty fair hourly rate.

Posted by: Some Citizen at March 18, 2015 7:09 AM

Down around my place, desert town in Borderland, we don't get much foot traffic. I have seen panhandlers at the parking lot exits at Wal-Mart, been there for three, four years.
Same shabby signs, "stranded need gas money" or "help a homeless vet" and they must be doing alright, got a steady job and they show up every day.
When I was living back east in Toronto we'd get these injuns come in from the bush and they figured they'd strike it rich mooching. Some of 'em had more moves than Michael Jordan, they'd never let you dodge 'em. They'd always ask "spare some change?" and I would get up in their faces and lock eyes with 'em and reply "I can, but I'm not gonna". A nice way to say fuck you.

Posted by: chasmatic at March 18, 2015 7:27 AM

Oh, Gerard. You have such a wonderful way of speaking the truth.

Here in Latte Land, I figure that anyone who is panhandling is doing it because they want to be "free" of the myriad and comprehensive social till provided by such cities as Seattle, but they want to be free by mooching and not working. Maybe they aspire to something better than Section 8, food stamps, the doctor provided them and so on. Their Utopia is a different one than the Marxists who run the joint.

Posted by: abigailadams at March 18, 2015 9:43 AM

I live in a rural community. Occasionally there will be panhandlers on the freeway exit, but I don't think they do much business. I've been tempted to make up some cards with a directory of charitable services in the area. (About twenty at last count.) It would be a service to someone in real need, but not to the "working poor," as mentioned by Donald Sensing in his post that's linked here.

Otherwise my feelings about the issue haven't changed since my previous comment.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at March 18, 2015 1:34 PM

I haven't heard much about the FEMA camps lately. I thought they were built for people that couldn't take care of themselves.
Boxcars and busses would fix things. Just like the government is bussing all those illegals around.

Posted by: chasmatic at March 18, 2015 9:41 PM

I suspect she was part of a larger franchise.

Outside Ben's department store in over the Rhine Cincinnati, an older colored woman (at the time she was colored, mebbe black) would ring her bell, calling out "give to the choich" over & over.

She was as regular as an employee, or perhaps way more so, given the neighborhood.

What "choich" to be given too was never specified.

Posted by: itor at March 21, 2015 7:42 PM

I never gave a damn thing to the beggars, then about two years ago I realized I am a lucky person, I have clean water to drink, my choice of food to eat, comfortable home to sleep in and a safe town to live in. I have access to a large kitchen with commercial equipment and bake 120 loaves of bread each week for the local food pantry. we are now up to 6,100 loaves since we started.here we are.....https://www.facebook.com/feedhisflockatbluffcitytn

Posted by: deimos at March 21, 2015 8:23 PM

Well Gerald,

You're attracting a very fine and lyrical crop of Spam this year.

If you have to beg, beg to differ.

Posted by: John the River at March 23, 2015 10:07 AM

Well, yes, I have been tardy on the weeding . But sooner or later I get most.

Posted by: Van der Leun at March 24, 2015 8:39 AM

It ain't "compassion"
when it's in response to

Posted by: Kauf Buch at June 17, 2016 5:18 AM

Always someone working that area. I may have seen her, it even sounds familiar, But then there are so many. It's a short trip down to the street level. I was a teenage runaway in the early seventies, and realized quickly how one had to adjust to life at that level. Some just never come back, and it gets worse exponentially. Particularly, if there's nobody looking for you. And there's a lot of people that aren't looking.

Posted by: Will at June 17, 2016 6:13 AM

It becomes increasingly difficult to feel compelled to spare a quarta when so many of the people asking for one are perfectly capable of earning it.

Outstanding post, Gerard. Thank you.

Posted by: creeper at June 17, 2016 8:55 AM

Over at my blog I saw a small spike in referrals from American Digest, I followed it back to here. I can see that Gerald has resurrected this old post to the top and my comment from 2013 gathered some clicks.

Three years later now and I'm fully retired and counting pennies a bit more than I used to. I never go into Boston anymore so I'm out of date on the antics of the current crop of street beggars. My 'out of pocket' charity is limited to Salvation Army at Christmas and VFW guys and gals at Memorial Day.

The local streets have a few folks with signs. The wording on the signs hasn't changed but the faces holding them have. Those faces are more tired and dirtier. When my wife was still with me and we were out and back on a short shopping trip, we would pick up something to drink or eat and she (sitting on the street side) would hand it to the poor soul on the way back. I don't do that by myself.

It's going to get worse, it is getting worse. How long before they start coming to the door and asking for food?

I hope the Obama's have a nice vacation on Marthas Vineyard this summer, lots of Wagyu beef on the grill. Lots of Americans had never heard of Wagyu or Kobe beef before that family came along. Do they throw the scraps out the back gate for the common folk to get a taste?

Posted by: John The River at June 17, 2016 7:04 PM

They better not show up at my door axing for food. FFS. You have to be stupid to not know how to acquire free food. I was disgusted to hear a news report earlier this week that placed blame on Kansas schools for not having adequate plans for feeding poor children during the summer. So when did schools become responsible for feeding folks? Many, many times too much help is a curse, and not a blessing. Our church school occasionally has "flash food drives" and the word goes out to the parents of the church school that we need to bring in canned and boxed food to refill local food pantries for the poor. A good way of helping folks out, which is much more discerning than Gubmint checks.

Posted by: Snakepit Kansas at June 17, 2016 7:39 PM