Giving money to beggars: is 'no' always the right approach?
This subject has been covered by many others and a common message seems to run through the discussions that ensue. While it might be tempting to show pity on those who approach us pleading for a dollar to feed them and their family, by giving money we are encouraging the act of begging and perpetuating a cycle of dependence on handouts from passing tourists.
But walking past a person asking us for help leave most of us feeling guilty in some way. Guilty for having so much more, guilty for not being able to look them in the eye, guilty for saying no. Guilt alone is not a reason to give of course. Yet are there some circumstances where the act of giving to a beggar is justified? Where the long-term downsides of giving should be disregarded for the greater immediate need of that individual?
Here are five simple examples that many of us will have come across. Who would you give your change to? Who would you decline?
Person 1: the Cambodian war veteran who lost both his legs to a landmine explosion. Now he sits at the entrance to the craft market begging for change from passing tourists.
Person 2: the Indian woman with a young baby slung across her chest. She shuffles between cars at the busy Delhi intersection, palm outstretched and wearing a mournful look of despair.
Person 3: the Roma lady with three young children hanging to her skirt who approaches you for money while you are sipping a coffee in a Venice cafe.
Person 4: the young man who suddenly appears as you stop your rental car in the small South African town for a spot of lunch. He asks for a few rand to 'watch the car'.
Person 5: the young girl on the London street, asking politely for some spare change as you enter the underground station.
Would you adopt the same approach for each of these situations? Or does the way that we handle beggars depend on our own perceptions of their need, and on how we think they will use the money we give them?