Allow me to take you back to the days of me being an asshole. In other words: high school.
Specifically, let me speak of my turning point. It was after graduation, and I was spending the summer in France with two friends of mine. We were hiking in the Pyrenees when I had become aware that my friend had lacked the foresight to bring his own water. He was thirsty and wanted some.
Now, I was a young man of strong values. Somewhere in my eighteen years, I had picked up the ridiculous notion that life was the sum of actions and consequences, that self-reliance was the ideal personality trait, that individuals had to learn from their irresponsible mistakes lest they never improve themselves, and of course that people should enjoy the fruits of their hard labor. They, who don’t work, don’t receive.
…and I had worked to bring that water up the mountain. I told my friend he couldn’t have any.
“You were irresponsible. I worked to bring this water up here. You didn’t. Why didn’t you bring any water? You knew you were going to need some.”
“I don’t know. I just didn’t bring any water. Give me some water.”
“Look, if I give you water, you’ll never learn to bring your own water. You’ll just think you can drink mine all the time.”
The third friend chimed in, incredulous.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“No, I don’t know why this is so hard to understand. I brought the water. I drink the water. He didn’t bring the water. He doesn’t drink the water.”
“Jesus Christ, just give him some water!”
Apparently my irrational friends were defiant of my simple logic. Honestly I forget if I ended up giving him water or not, but they were pretty pissed for the rest of the day, and our company grew sour by the end of our trip. Both friendships all but dissolved not soon after our return to ‘The States.’
Here’s the moral of the story: If someone asks you for water, and you have water, give ’em some goddamn water for crying out loud. It doesn’t matter if he didn’t work for the water, or if he won’t learn from not bringing water – everything will be better if you share your water as long as you take your head out of your own ass long enough to not get indignant over it.
I used to not give to the homeless using the same reasoning. However once a couple years back in Los Angeles, I came to recognize a certain homeless lady who sat on a bench outside a row of shops and would ask for change. I was on my way to a Chipotle directly behind her, and for whatever reason, after years of ignoring bums, it occurred to me that I might enjoy being a good person for once. I stopped at her bench:
“Hey, I don’t have change, but I’m going to Chipotle. You want a burrito?”
“Oh, no thank you. But if you’re offering, I will take a soda.”
“What do you want?”
“Oh, a Pepsi would be great.”
So I bought her a Pepsi and left. For me, it was completely inconsequential. My bank account didn’t necessarily miss the $1.75, and it cost me no time or effort. My day was essentially unchanged. But hers? I don’t know, I’m not her. Maybe hers didn’t change either. It’s not my business.
People talk about not giving change to the homeless because all they buy is booze and cigarettes. That may be true. I was on a date once when my date gave her leftovers to a bum in Hollywood, and he turned around and threw it in the trash. It was insulting, but this is what I’m still trying to learn: once I part ways with my little token of sharing, whether it be 25 cents or half a sandwich, it’s not my business what they do with it. I’m doing my part, and it’s up to them to do theirs. If they don’t, what loss is it of mine? If all they want to do is blow their jar of coins on hookers and vodka, that’s fine by me – whatever makes them happy. Who am I to judge? The moment I give up my 25 cents, it’s not my 25 cents anymore.
What if they’re begging for a business, and at the end of the day, they go home to their mansion and a six figure income from the streets? Well then, call me a fool. Bum Conglomerate: 1. Quack: 0. But I can’t know that, so I can’t assume that.
And, as hard as it is, this is how I’m trying to function in life. I fail at it frequently, but I’m trying to learn how to not give as many damns about what I think I deserve or what’s rightfully mine. Some people would call me a pushover. That’s true. I am a pushover. But at the end of the day, when you’re collecting money for a restaurant bill, isn’t it better to put in a few dollars more and have everyone peaceably and happily go home than to bicker about the bill every time and sour your friendships?
If everyone was more comfortable giving what’s rightfully theirs or doing more than their fair share, I believe our collective spirits would be a lot healthier. I know that’s an impossibly idealistic claim, but if you’re giving with the expectation that people are going to be giving back, you’re doing it wrong.