Generous or a Fool?

In today’s Washington Post, Bob Levey writes about an encounter a reader had with a beggar. The beggar asked for $2 to buy some gas, but instead walked into a store and bought a six-pack of beer. The reader said she felt “disillusioned and disappointed.”
Why? How can a rational adult believe that a stranger with a sob story can be trusted implicitly? People lie, people con, people steal. On this board, we’ve seen psychopathic posters create elaborate fantasies to elicit sympathy. We’ve seen e-mail glurge about miracles and friend-of-a-friend stories about Proctor & Gamble giving money to Satanists and Bill Gates handing out free money for passing on e-mail. I had my head handed to me not too long ago for suggesting that some people lie about their military service records. I was told “that doesn’t happen,” yet just last month, Joseph Ellis, a renowned historian, was revealed as having fabricated service in Vietnam.

How can people believe what they are told without questioning the validity of the information? Why aren’t people more skeptical? Should people be suspicious or trusting when dealing with strangers with sad tales?

I think that when people spend their money on themselves (or loved ones) they tend to do so in line with their own needs/wants and morals. When people are generous towards strangers they generally expect that their generosity will be treated in accordance with those same expectations. They forget that a stranger may not have the same values or needs. That is part of being a charitable human being. To understand that sometimes your donation is not going to be utilized in the fashion you had intended.

Some people find that it is better to give money to a reputable organization which tends to have strict control over charitable donations and utilizes them in a way that will maximize good for the needy individual.

But let’s face it, charlatans and con-artist have been around a very long time. It is never a nice feeling to know that you’ve been bamboozled. And let’s face it, we’ve been warned about not trusting strangers since we were kids. On the whole, I think it served us well. When we become adults, we sometimes forget that we can still be conned by a clever lie or scheme. An occasional, mostly harmless reminder of this is a good thing. I see no reason why we should trust strangers who solicit us - particularly those with dubious credentials and non verifiable stories.

Man, if I saw a jerk beggar pull that on me, I’d spill all cans of the 6-pack in the gutter.

Well, I was in a Philosophy course on Ethics this past semester, and the following was uttered:

“If that beggar is really just sitting out there day after day, well, he needs the beer more than I do.”

Well, a six pack always gives me gas.

Many years ago, when I lived in Cincinnati, I was approached by a beggar asking for money. I ignored him and went on my way. Later, returning on another busier street I saw him again. An older lady had him by the ear and was leading him into a cafe. I heard her say “and you’re going to eat it.”

I’ve also heard the story of an Englishman who was visiting a friend in Calcutta. They were walking along and all these hands were out-stretched. The Englishman reached in his pocket and was going to put a coin in one of the hands.
His friend told him to put it back. He said that all the Englishman would do was help that beggar for one day, which would give him hope. Unless the Englishman could be there the next day and the next it was only false hope that he was giving the beggar.

There are professional beggars that make good money (and pay no taxes) in large cities.

I think one has to have a “hope for the best, be prepared for the worst” attitude if/when one gives money in a situation like that. I agree with the OP, it’s naive to think that everyone who asks for money for gas, food, whatever is going to use it for the stated purpose. If you’re that concerned about it, you can do what the reporter suggests and offer to help in other ways.

The title of the thread is interesting. It seems she was generous AND a little foolish. She was still generous, though. There’s a well-dressed guy who works a corner near my office. His pitch is that he locked himself out of his apartment, and needs 1.50 (the price of a subway token) to get back to his office to get his spare keys. I've got to say, he really looks like a businessman who is locked out of his apartment. I fell for it once, and was amazed to see him still doing the same schtick a few years later. I was annoyed, but I figured that the moment the leaves my hands, the situation is out of my hands as well.

I give money and time to soup kitchens and battered women’s shelters. The people on the street just want booze.

I did a little experiment the other day. I offered to buy a beggar a nice meal at KFC. It was refused. I then went into a liquor store, got a 100ml bottle of cheap liquor, and offered that to a beggar. It was gratefully accepted.


So, how come you didn’t offer the liquor if he would eat the meal first?

And who makes the Night Train, the Mad Dog 20/20, the Thunderbird, the whole array of “fortified wines”? Your friends and nieghbors, white guys in suits who likely attend church and mouth pieties, and attend with due diligence the bottom line. Think they don’t know who drinks thier swill? Think they don’t cash thier paycheck anyway?

Some guy said something about how you treat the least of us defines who you are, or something like that. Much wisdom therein contained.

I could never understand why people get so upset when beggers want booze. I mean, sure, perhaps booze isn’t the wisest thing to spend money on…but neither is gas for the SUV, cable TV, or Taco Bell. The fact is that you probably live a life of excess. Most likely extreme excess. What is wrong with shareing a litttle of that excess? Why do we allow ourselves to do whatever madly excessive things we want, and then get angry when others do anything but the bare bones? Look, you know what beggers do now…so either share what you have and deal with how they spend it, or ignore them and go on with your life.

As far as booze- alcoholism is a disease, and it is a damn hard thing to fight by yourself. Treatment programs for the poor are all but non-existant here. The rich can go to the Betty Ford clinic…but the poor are expected to magically get rid of their drinking problems while still existing in miserable conditions. No wonder they drink!

And perhaps it would do you good to take a good look as to why there are homeless people and beggers in the first place. Our economic system does not universaly work- and some really screwed up things happen.

Yeah, like if you lost your job, you’d be out on the street begging for quarters so you can go buy some Mad Dog 20/20 at the corner store. :rolleyes:

Hate to break it to you, bub, but money for SUV’s, cable TV, and Taco Bell doesn’t magically fall from the sky; you have to WORK for money. I, for one, came from a background of poverty and abuse, paid for my education through merit grants and working summers and during the school year, and I hold down a good job because I WORKED for it. I didn’t stand out on a street corner, shaking nickels in a cup.

I contribute money to charities I believe in, but I won’t give money to some loser who wants me to pay for his vices.

Don’t you think in some ways, we give to others to make OURSELVES feel better…to feel like we’ve made a difference in some way?

I’m not suggesting that charity is “selfish” by any means. But I was just thinking that I’ve done a great deal of volunteer work because I generally like to give my time rather than my money. You know what’s being DONE with your time. I work for women’s shelters and deal with sexual assault and domestic violence victims. Particularly in the case of repeated domestic violence incidents in the same family, this can be frustrating. I give abused women the information, references and support they need to be able to make a decision regarding their situation. I try to teach them how to recognize abuse…a skill fewer people have than you might think.

What they DO with that information has little affect on ME directly. However, the fact that I gave them what they needed to make what I consider to be the right decision DOES make a difference to me. It makes me feel great! Sure, I get frustrated when they come back next month in the same situation. But that’s life. Not everyone makes the decisions you personally believe are proper.

Who cares what a bum does with your dollar? What you did COULD have made a difference and that is all that matters. That’s all we can EVER hope for.


Preach it, Sexy. I for one proudly state that all the community service and charity work I’ve done, and I’ve done a good amount, has been motivated by selfishness. I felt good about myself, and I learned a great deal more about reality than my surburban upringing ever did.

Every charitable action should have reward of some kind - that’s how we get people to keep committing charitable acts. The woman in the OP was deprived of her reward - she lost at least the illusion that her charity would have a positive result.

So, my take, goboy, is that the woman was both generous and a fool. Generous to try; a fool to think that money given on the street would help anybody. The real question, and one we can’t answer is what lesson she takes from the experience - that charity is for saps, or that charity should be made in a way that is more likely to help.


When I was a student at Berkeley, I would sometimes give money to homeless people asking for money for food. Then the university paper published an article about a sting in which undercover cops had been busting crack dealers in the local park, and noted that nearly all the homeless “regulars” were buying crack with money they had solicited for food.

So I was disillusioned, and stopped giving money. Now, I think I was just mad at myself for being naive, and projected it onto the homeless people. “How dare they lie to me?!” Why on earth wouldn’t they lie? They are struggling with problems (hunger, addiction, mental illness, etc.) I can’t even comprehend. Who am I to judge them?

If you only want your money to go for food, go buy food and give it to homeless people. Otherwise, accept that you’re giving an unconditional gift for them to use as they see fit. Of course it’s not going to solve their problems. That’s what shelters and charities are for.

It seems the Universe is not without a sense of irony; I just found out an hour ago that, due to lack of work, my position has been terminated. I have been laid off. OK, now you may enjoy a delicious sense of Schadenfreude.

DC Dopers, if anybody needs a writer/editor, let me know.

ill give you a dollar, goboy, but only if you promise to spend it on white-out, or some red rollerball pens, or something.

Without wishing to gloat over goboy’s misfortunes, that is one funny and perfectly ironic turnaround essvee.

If someone is reduced to the level of swallowing so much of his pride, dignity and self-respect that he’s able to ask a stranger for money, I don’t care what he does with it. If alcohol numbs the pain of living such a marginal existence, go for it with my blessing.

goboy, I have some change in my pocket. I’ll throw it on the floor for you to collect, but first: dance! Shake a leg!

In 1988 I was working in Toronto. I was walking along Queen Street West one afternoon (down by the asylum) when a young woman approached me, asking for money for food. I checked my pockets, had about 60 cents in coin, but also had a five dollar bill. I was in a good mood, I gave her the five, and continued on my way. I made the purchase that I was down that way for (origami paper for a birthday gift for someone) and headed back downtown to return to work. I stopped into a hamburger chain for something to eat, and a few minutes after I got in, the same young woman (with boyfriend in tow) came in and the two of them figured out the maximum amount of food they could get for five bucks and change they had between them.

Strangely enough I didn’t feel good about myself. Here I was wasting money on a yuppie gift for someone, and these kids were having to scrounge for money for food. I wished I hadn’t been struck by a bad case of embarrassment. I should have given them the rest of the money I had left over from my purchase.

Yeah, I am sure that money I have given panhandlers on the street has gone into booze or drugs. I still give them money.

My advisor told us about the time he got his pocket picked by beggers in Istanbul. He ended up getting into a fistfight with them.

Now, he recommends pinning your wallet to your pocket.

Dick York, aka Darrin of Bewitched and advocate for the homeless always said to take a long an extra sandwich and give that to them instead of money.