Tip the waiter not the beggar (Entry for Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty)
One of the most interesting things that happened during my stay in Jacksonville, Florida was when I gave alms to a panhandler / beggar. What made this experience unique was the fact that I am a visitor from a third world country, the Philippines, and there I was giving alms to somebody from the first world. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, but we are so used to having people from first world countries like the U.S.A, United Kingdom, France and Sweden visit a third world country like the Philippines to perform various forms of charity work that doing so felt unnatural. It felt surreal.
Even in my home country I always try to do my own share of kindness. Some times, this meant giving some street child some spare change. Other times, this meant getting involved in a health mission. Which is why I was shocked when my American friend chided me for what I did. I shouldn’t be giving money to these people. By doing so, I was supporting what they were doing. In a way, I was supporting laziness. There are beggars and panhandlers because there are generous people who give them money.
I was astounded. I did not think twice when I offered to give the panhandler all my big coins, which probably amounted to half a day’s wage for someone in my home country. But there was my friend, who probably enjoys a salary at least 10 times mine, and he was literally telling me to stop throwing my money away.
He was not always like this. When he was still a student, he would generously give alms to every random beggar. That went on until it came to a point when he stopped and realized that he was giving away his parents’ money. Money he did not work for. Money that did not really belong to him. Money that his parents probably wanted him to have and enjoy. Things changed. Now, he would think twice before giving money. If it were a healthy looking guy who was just dressed a little too dirty, he’d do a double take. If it were a mother with a kid, then he would probably consider giving. It all made sense to him and curiously, I found myself unable to disagree.
Money is power. For some people, it also means happiness. However, people are known to live happily without it. According to the dictionary, “the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support” is the definition of poverty. This makes the concept of poverty very interesting. When can a man really say that he is destitute? Is a destitute man really destitute if he has the capacity to survive without it? After all, there was a time when man lived in caves and survived by consuming its surrounding resources.
I have had many chances but ever since I came back to the Philippines, I have yet to give alms to the poor. Yet, I have had no problems giving a 20% tip to the local restaurants or to my hair dresser. I could have given all that money to the street kid who could not even afford a pair of slippers. Maybe I am becoming a cynic. Or maybe I only like giving if I could see where the money went.