On the subway today, a man was asking for donations so he could buy food, sandwiches, deodorant, even hand sanitizer to give for free to homeless people. He had lived on the street two decades ago, he said, and now does this part time to give back, in addition to a part time job he holds.
I have absolutely no idea if this is true, but I was skeptical. I, along with everyone else in my car, got off the train without giving him any money. Right after I got off the train I knew I had done the wrong thing. It just didn’t feel right.
Most of the time I don’t give to people on the street. It seems to make sense, rationally, not to give most of of the time — and instead to give to great organizations that are doing things for the homeless. Perhaps, but it’s easy to take this too far.
Giving is an act of self-expression, and generosity is a practice. Each time I decide not to give, I’m reinforcing a way of acting – one that’s critical and analytical and judgmental.
You may not be like this at all. You may consistently act from the heart first and not the head. Good for you. More often than not, I don’t, though it’s something I’m working to change.
So I’ve been thinking that I need to try a generosity experiment: for a period of time, when I’m asked to give, to say yes. To everything. To emails and people on the street and friends raising money. Everyone. I think it will be good practice.
What do people think? Does this make sense? [sic]
P.S. More on this topic from the Freakonomics blog, where Barbara Ehrenreich is very clear that you always give to someone on the street who directly asks you.