Sunday, June 21, 2009

Could You Spare Some Change?

Typically I don’t give money to people who ask me for change. I don't for a number of reasons, the main one being that I don’t know what the money will be used for [interestingly I’ve tried at times to give away untouched food and that’s a tougher sell]. I also tell myself that I can’t give change to everyone.* Around my agency I will usually be asked at least once a day for change. Sometimes I pass the same lady asking for change “to use the bus” twice in one day, on the way to work and back from work.

Two recent incidents brought two contrasting responses from me. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I were walking and an old lady stopped us and asked for 40 cents to buy her medicine. I used my usual line of not having change and continued walking, feeling guilty almost immediately for having said no. What if she was telling the truth? I reasoned with myself that if that was the case that someone else would surely give her forty cents. A few days later I saw a man, maybe in his late fifties, trying to use his transportation card to get on the train but it wouldn’t go through. After hesitating for a few seconds I used my card and let him get on. And then I thought – what was the difference in the two situations – why did I help one person and not the other?

I felt very sorry for the man who was blind in one eye and seemed to be mentally disabled. But I had also felt sorry for the old lady because of her age and because I perceive an elderly person to be more vulnerable than say, a middle aged person. But I hadn’t helped her, even though I had immediately felt guilty afterward. The fact I was helping a man get on a train seemed more tangible. If I was at the pharmacy and the lady would’ve held her prescription in one hand and stared helplessly at the pharmacist holding on to the bottle, I would’ve likely taken out 40 cents.

Interesting thing is that I’m much more giving when it comes to people who play an instrument, sing, etc. I feel like they’re doing something to earn their money and a part of me respects that a lot.

* Although it may be a crooked way to think that if I’m not helping everyone that it's somehow helping any one person.

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