I have been thinking about this blog for some time. My call to action was an article featured recently in the Indianapolis Star which focused on the growing "problem" of panhandling at busy intersections of the city. (**Edit: the Indy Star article appears to have been removed, so here is something similar from WRTV albeit without the idiotic commentary) I have many, many thoughts on philanthropy as I am engaged in a gamut of philanthropic activities so this short essay is by no means exhaustive; it is merely a brief statement that I think is very current and relevant in these trying economic times.
Basically, it boils down to this. I think charity begins in your heart, and that it should be given without conditions and with full faith and goodwill. I will say, this applies mostly to small personal charity rather than larger corporate giving and the like. Clearly when we are talking about funds that reach the millions and billions of dollars there needs to be some oversight to ensure that charities and philanthropic organizations are making the best uses of their funds. But since most of us do not give in the millions and rather than in the dollars and cents I think the best outlook is the one I listed above.
While reading the above article in the Star I broke my personal promise and looked at the comments that you can leave on the articles. I've mentioned this before, but I really feel like that is the most unnecessary feature in online news media. I really don't care what "the common man" thinks about any given topic and I usually regret when I take a gander at them. Of course that was the case this time as well. Looking at the comments from my fellow Hoosiers I was struck by how mean and nasty some people are. It went from mundane comments like "Those bum should get jobs instead of standing on the side of the road begging for my hard earned American dollars!" to really ridiculous claims like "I've seen those lying wastes of society go from begging on the corner to walking to the nearby parking lot and getting in a brand new suped up SUV!" I very much doubt that that incident occurred, but was rather some made up claim to try and counter the "bleeding hearts" that dared defend these "bums." IndyStar commentators signify the very worst in our society and near cease to amaze me with how hateful people can be.
I have a little cubby on the left side of my car in between my window and steering wheel. I try and always keep a couple dollar bills stashed in the compartment in case I pull up next to a panhandler. Now in my case whenever I have pulled up next to a panhandler in my opinion they look like they could use a hand. I've never seen anyone who looks like they are getting ready to get into ANY car, much less some imagined fancy SUV. Sometimes I glance at their sign, but it doesn't really matter to me what their story is. Vet, mother of 3, homeless, down on their luck, I don't care. I can't think of anything more dehumanizing than standing on the side of the road and begging for money. I think it has to take an extremely humble person who's willing to lose all dignity to do that. I'm sure they get more hateful looks and shout outs than they do caring people. I try and pass them a buck or two if I am close enough that it is safe for them to walk up to my car. Sometimes I have to pull out change if I haven't restocked my dollar bills and I always feel bad about it. I usually apologize. I have never encountered anyone who has been rude to me. I am always encountered with somber eyes and usually a big "Thank You" and "God Bless." I never say anything more than a "You're welcome." I don't feel like I need to ask them any questions or give them any advice. What they do with the money is their business. Do I believe that every dollar I've given has gone to something "worthwhile" (money, rent, etc.) instead of something wasteful (alcohol, drugs, etc.)? No. Do I care? No. Do I hope that in some small way my few dollars have made their life easier and maybe a little less hard for a short bit? You bet. I can't even begin to imagine what their life is like. I don't know their history, their current issues, or anything at all about them except that there they are standing there next to my car. Even if they never think of me and my measly dollars again, I hope that just for a minute they realize that someone cares enough about them to not judge them, roll down their window and stick a few dollars into their hand. That might not seem like much, but I know that during times when I've felt down or when things have felt wretched it is the little signs of humanity that mean the most.
I believe that we should all strive to live as charitably and judgment free as possible. None of us are perfect and there will always been someone around to try and tell you who you are and what you are doing is wrong. Instead I would like to try and find the best in everyone and do things that I feel will build people up instead of bring them down. I give because I hope it will help someone out. If you don't feel like you can give because you do not want to encourage their behavior then that's fine too. Make your own choices. My choice is to do what I feel in my heart is the best option for me. I'm not doing anything heroic or life changing, but I do feel like I'm doing some small thing on behalf of humanity that matters.