I saw a beggar today with a sign that said “I bet you $1 I can guess the state you were born in.” She looked about my age, not super shabby, and I heard her asking some other folks “Can you spare some change so I can get a Greyhound ticket to go home?” I was intrigued by her sign, I figured she was probably just a good guesser and most people ended up giving her a dollar anyway. I asked her what state she thought I was born in. “You were born in a state of infancy.” It was worth a chuckle. I gave her a dollar as un-condescendingly as I could.

But it made me wonder. I don’t usually give money to beggars because of the ol' “they’ll just spend it on booze” argument. I didn’t think she would spend it on booze. (oh, and she was young and white. I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.) I started to wonder how much I could make in a day, if I went begging, and how much an old black grizzledman could make in a day. What if I was all sharp-looking? What if I got all shabby and dirty? What if I juggled, or offered to juggle? (it’s a fine line between begging and street performing) If I was friendly, or if I just sat back unintrusively? If I acted superior, or super humble?

Might be a nice way to get to know a different walk of life. (of course I would give the money to other beggars or something at the end of the day.) (and of course this is the kind of thing I’d talk about but never actually get around to doing) I just somehow want to humbly say “look, folks. I know I’m not one of you. But I don’t think I’m better than you.”


Anonymous -

This is a nice post Dan. :) I’ve often wondered about beggars and usually I just try not to make eye contact. :( I wish there was some solution. I’m glad you have so much empathy.

Brian -

A) I think the better argument is not necessarily about booze, but that your dollar goes farther donated to organizations that care for the homeless and the disadvantaged than it does given directly to people on the street.

B) Can you imagine, say, the CEOs of Google coming to sit down and code next to you one day and saying, “Look buddy, I know I’m not one of you. But I don’t think I’m better than you.” Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something that still seems, I don’t know, dishonest about that.

C) That line is totally worth $1 in my book. But in the street performer sense, not in the beggar sense (see number A).

Brian -

Wow upon a re-read that comment just looks pretentious.

A) By better I just meant I used to use the argument you mentioned. The one I mention is on signs in downtown Pittsburgh, and I think it’s good.

B) I don’t know what I’m going for here. It’s not really a comparable situation. I guess I was just trying to relate to that from the other side, but it came off seeming derogatory.

Dan -

A. True. But do I give money to local charities? Do I give enough money to charities at all? I give them some money, but not very much. Would it solve any problems if they did have more money? These are all good questions and I have no answers.

B. This is kinda one of the more bleeding-heart things I’ve written. I guess what I’m saying is, I wish I could say it in a way that’s not dishonest. By setting yourself apart at all, you put this wall of “better/worse” there. I mean, it’s the same problem when I talk with people about food: if I’m like “I don’t eat potato chips”, there’s this inherent “I’m better than you” there, which I don’t intend. Or at least, don’t want to intend. Maybe this isn’t the same situation.

And nah, nothing derogatory about what you’ve said.

Brian -

A) Yeah I think that’s a valid question, but not the same as the one you are asking here. When you go to give a dollar to someone on the street, this campaign in Pittsburgh, and these charities want you to take that moment to think about how there are already people whose living it is to think about the homeless, to improve their lives in the long-term. Whether or not they succeed is a question you can ponder if you want when you look at who to donate to, but they are saying that investment of $1 or $10 or $25 is still better in their hands than a quick-fix to get the person bugging you to stop bugging you.

As for not very much, well the $1 you give to the beggar is not very much either. All of these are good questions, but I still feel like even if you just walk down the street and give that $1 to a church with a program for the homeless, it’s money better spent.

B) Yeah, I don’t know. I think we’re saying the same thing. Putting yourself on the street and asking for money does not make you a beggar. I feel like if some CEO came down and did my job for a day just for fun, then went back to his corner office, it might just irritate me.

Dan -

B. Oh snap, I just read something like this. Like how “poverty” that rich white kids in college go through is not at all like actual poverty, not only because it’s not as bad, but also because they just go back to their parents' houses on break and live like kings. It might have been in “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant”.

Anyway, the author was saying that fake poverty (“slumming” you might say) is one of the most arrogant things that a wealthyman can do.

William Shatner and Pulp would surely agree.

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