A few years back, I went to Sydney with a mate of mine. It was a spur of the moment sort of trip that we booked two days before the flight.
Previous to the trip, I had developed a habit of giving change to homeless people, usually whenever they’d ask. Not because I’m Jesus (though, I can assure I am), but merely because the childhood guilt imposed on me, embedded within the essential framework comprising my physiology, demanded that I did. Otherwise, I would go home and hate myself for being such a selfish bastard, a fortunate, healthy, not very happy kid, unwilling to spare the scurf from his pocket to maybe ensure the life of another human being lasted one more day.
When I arrived in Sydney, I was immediately struck with the extent of how prevalent homelessness was, as is usually the case in most bigger, faster and colder cities; not that I’m trying to poo-poo Sydney, but hey, it’s relatively true. Anyway, one of my first experiences in Sydney was with a man sitting outside of a supermarket. With both hands gripping at a large, fedora, he reached out to me, his blanket falling from his shoulders, asking for “some change.” Thinking that I was being helpful, instead of giving him a mere penny, which I didn’t actually have, I proposed instead that I would get him food, real food, any food, from the supermarket next door. He then looked away, spat on the footpath and told me to go and fuck myself.
I wasn’t angry by this little show, but instead, hurt. Hurt, not because he didn’t want to accept my generous, benevolent offer, but merely because I’m a sensitive nelly who doesn’t like confrontation, generally, and who really dislikes being told what to do, especially demanded to go and masturbate by a stranger. This happening however, did instil on me a reluctance to help those asking for it. Almost immediately after the event, my mind, totally against my will, started replaying the thought that people were ungrateful, selfish, inconsiderate assholes, who didn’t desrve help. These thoughts naturally didn’t sit well with me, and so, being the clever little brain it is, he started to justify these thoughts by claiming I did the man a favour by not emptying my pockets into his hat, as he would have most certainly spent the money on cigarettes or booze or heroin or whatever else. I comforted myself by thinking, had I “helped” this man, I’d really, in actuality been doing him a disservice. I actually did “help” him by not helping him. I did the right thing. Go me.
The next day, I went on a shopping spree.
It was for my 21st birthday, and at the time I was rather into, how shall we say it, spending absurd amounts of money on pieces of material to wrap myself in. I was working for Hugo Boss at the time, and so, with the HUGE discounts that I was allowed, buying a Boss suit, or at least parts of one, made perfect sense in my head, as the stock they had in Sydney was much nicer, I thought, than what we had in Melbourne.
That morning, before the shopping spree was to take place, a man approached my friend and I, hoping to shake us out of our change. He smelt of wet newspaper, his teeth were jagged and stained in yellow, and his hand was slightly deformed. Bracing myself for an abusive onslaught, I said, with an air of haughty satire, “how about we go to 7-11 over there, and you can buy whatever the hell you want.” The man, in contrariety to my expectation, smiled from ear to ear, while his eyes looked disbelieving. “Really?” He asked. “Sure,” I said, still thinking he was about to punch me, or something.
He then thanked me and started walking, while he told me his story; he was homeless because his family had died, he had a mental illness that he was very open about, and didn’t want to rely on the state for support. He walked and talked until we got to the 7-11, where all he asked for was one, single Australian pie, costing about $3.50. Leaving the store, he continued to thank me, saying that if he ever saw me in Melbourne, he’d make sure to shout me a beer; continuing to smile and wave on our parting.
This got me to thinking:
Why should I judge whether or not I give someone money based solely on what they’re going to use it for?
I know that it’s easy to judge a homeless person, generally, and then especially if they seem undeserving of your kindness. But hell, why should we, why should I, an asshole about to spend far too much money on something; not to protect me from the elements, but simply to show off with, act so self-righteously, determining whether or not this person is deserving of my money, mere cuts of metal rattling around in my pocket, annoying me above all else?
Yeah, sure, indirectly fuelling someone’s habit that’s probably killing them isn’t always such a good idea. But fuck it, that’s not a decision for me to make. If abusing substances so to escape a world that’s probably not been so kind to them is what they want to do, then what’s it my business to judge? Probably better to give them a little push rather than them stealing or hurting or killing other people to satiate their habit. And hell, no one tells us what to do with our pay check, why should we tell them? To help them get their act together? Okay, Mr Noble, yes, your pocket change will make such a BIG difference in this person’s life; you’re right, you are helping them get their act together by buying them one, measly meal! Fucking asshole.
I’m not encouraging the giving or not giving of change to homeless people, I don’t give a shit what you do, and I don’t anymore give a shit what the spur of the moment decide I do. Though, it’s always nice to comprehend the reasons fuelling our actions, I think.
Not for any other reason than that it makes us “better,” or more aptly, more understanding people in the long run.
Humans-are-altruistic-in-nature. Or, is every altruistic action disguised selfishness?