Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To care or not to care that is my question

I drove by someone on the corner of 9th ave north and lewvan today (coming home smiling from amazing kitesurfing session at last mountain lake).  They had a sign that read something to the tune of "travelling hungry can you spare some change", I didn't get the exact words,I wish I had.  My initial reaction, which embarrasses me and makes me feel some sort of shame inside, was not to reach out of the window and give money (even though I am sooo privileged, I had just enjoyed a wonderful day and continue to joy an amazingly wonderful life), no I did like everyone else and waited for the light to turn green before leaving the scene, but the scene hasn't left me.  I am still thinking about that person, where are they sleeping, where are they going, are they cold, sick, tired, hungry.  But, talk is cheap, and here I sit plunking on the keyboard...

Are we conditioned to care or not care by our parents, friends and culture in North America, is it one of these more than another (ie parents)?  Are other cultures, more communal cultures different in their responses to this situation?  Is a toonie or a five dollar bill really a solution or just offering a fish to a bigger problem?  Michale Franti sings "there are 7 billion people on this Earth can you tell me what every single life is worth?"  Considering this how does evolution, survival of the fittest mentality factor in to this?  

Do you care?  How do you react when confronted with a situation like this?  How does it make you feel?

What will I do next time...


  1. Every time I overcome my inhibitions and give money to someone on the street, I just can't shake the feeling that I've been scammed. Is it better to give money to established NGOs like Salvation Army that are designed to help people just like that? I think so, but sometimes you wonder how much of a difference it could make in one person's life to reach out and show them you care.

  2. This person changes locations around the City - sometimes he has a dog with him and sometimes he doesn't. He has been doing this for a couple of years. I prefer to donate to charities but not sure there is a right answer to this one.

  3. This was a girl. I understand and find the skepticism that people feel interesting and a challenge. It seems like one of the barriers to giving might be the feeling that we are getting scammed? Even when thinking about larger charities (Habitat for Humanity and Unicef) I think people wonder where is my money really going... this is a fair question and point.

  4. So...... what will you do next time Curtis?

  5. The question that I will ask is what are you being scammed out of? A couple bucks? Is it your ego that is feeling hurt because you got "tricked"? But even if you got tricked, what did you get tricked into? The feelings that we all have for feeling scammed seem to come from a culturally constructed notion that everyone should just get a job, provide for themselves and have more pride than to ask for the hard-earned money of others...
    I think by not giving to these people, we are perpetuating one way of knowing - that is, a capitalist view of how people should live their lives and contribute to society. I think about youth alot, and I think about how there really isn't any "places" in our western cities for youth. And for this particular woman, maybe she a) didn't know about the charities that could help her or b) thinks that she doesn't need charity and is leaving it for people who are in more need than her.
    I also have an issue with the way some of our places that "help" people work...woman often can't access shelters if they aren't beaten and leaving a violent relationship. People can't access shelters if they are under the influence of drugs/alcohol. Finally, there is not one shelter that lets you stay with your partner or your pet. (ripping away the one positive relationship that you have...)
    If you ask me, on a personal level, we should judge less, and accept more. However, in a larger institutional level, we should be spending our privileged/white energies on trying to create change that will allow the systems that we live in to be more inclusive and anti-racist. We need to tell the decision makers that survival of the fittest, doesn't mean who makes more money and who has whiter skin.
    Curtis, I think it is great that you are asking these difficult questions of yourself and others. We can't really create change unless we look inside...

  6. I usually like to say "I gave at the office" when someone asks me for money.

    There are many more communal societies out there. For instance, in India, you would be ashamed to send your parents to an old age home. Families live together, forever. But that just seems awful to me. There's no way my mom is living with me.

  7. Karen, thank you for your thoughtful, insightful and challenging message. As for next time yes absolutely I will open my heart, my wallet and I my time, I like to think and hope this is how I will respond, however dad always says "talk is cheap"... I think writing it on this wall, committing to it in a sense will help!! And, yes I think the dialog is very important, hopefully a new discussion soon, I am hoping I can get Mark Berube to start it, I recently met him in Lethbridge and we started an interesting discussion that I would like to visit!


  8. I know I am late coming to this conversation but I learned recently that the head of a company I donate to on a regular basis has an annual salary of over $100 000 a year. I have to say that I was very upset to hear this. I do understand that everyone needs to make money in some way shape or form, but for whatever reason this amount of money just didn't seem right to me considering he developed a non-profit organization meant to help the less priviledged.
    I have not stopped donating to this particular company because I still believe in what they do - especially considering I see it first hand in some of the work I do. BUT I do pay closer attention to what/how I make a contribution. I have even started to take new things into consideration when making any and all of my donations.
    I do understand what others are saying about being more priviledged and therefore not being out much...but with me it has to do with trust. I no longer trust that everyone is asking me for help of some kind. Like I said, I did not use this as an excuse NOT to donate or care - it just made me actually look into it more. I like to know where my money, food, help is going so I make sure I will be proud of what I have donated too.

  9. My immediate response to this goes something like this and has a lot to do with trust: trust that if you choose to help this person, it is just that, nothing more, nothing less. you are helping someone, and if you were in their position you would be grateful to those that choose to help you, unquestioningly. it shouldn't matter what it goes to, (of course, we'd all like to see it go to something positive, but regardless, you've shown someone you care, you've reached out to someone, you've trusted someone, and that person will hopefully remember this kindness and someday, in some way or another, pass it on) I think we complicate kindness, when it is really so simple. if you have chosen to help someone, let it be just that. in some way or another, you most likely are helping someone... and that, well, was the whole, uncomplicated point.

  10. Andrea - Beautiful!

  11. When I see people asking for donations I sometimes give them money, or I take them to the nearest food store and buy them a meal. Giving shouldn't be contingent on our approval how this recipient spends the money. Giving is an act of charity which says that I see you as a person in need, I give to you because I am able to. Period. No judgement should be attached.

  12. On my way home from Bismarck this past summer I was stopped waiting to turn at a light by a man who I thought was maybe looking for directions but it turned out he was asking for money. He said he was starting a new job on Monday but he didn't have any food or money for himself or his family for the weekend so i gave him the $10 of American money i had left over from my Bismarck get away, I wasn't planning on going back to the area for awhile and didn't have immediate plans for the money. I figure if he really needed the money then I can feel good that I gave it to him. If i was scammed and he wanted it for smokes or alcohol then he has to live with that.

  13. Yes, but is this donation for the sake of giving yourself a pat on the back, to feel good about your charity or is it to benefit the person in need?

    I have travelled much and have learned that if you give money to people on the street it often keeps them there. They have learned that this can be their source of income instead of striving for something better.

    Where are the studies to show which is better? Give to people on the street or give to an NGO? They must exist?

    Everyone needs motivation so why not talk with them and treat them as a person instead of a charity case. Give them your time which is more valuable, or should be more valuable than some chum change.

    To question this thought is to think critically about money and the issues surrounding human need. If you don't think critically about where your money is going and what you actually want to change by giving it to someone, than you must not value it. If you don't value money, as a source of meaningful change than why give it away at all?

  14. wow, this last comment has me taken, thank you for sharing. Yes, do I value my money? I have generally committed to giving almost everytime someone asks, but have few conversations, that's going to change! thank you!