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On Pity, Giving and Perception

Updated on August 9, 2011

This is a difficult subject to write on. It is difficult because I already started a couple of times and then, I erased everything. I would like misunderstandings to stay away from this piece of writing. Yet, the question is simple: when we give to others, do we do it out of pity or not? That is a question I have asked myself many times. About a week or so ago, I came across a circumstance when this question came-up again.

I was pumping gas, when what looked like a homeless lady approached me. I had seen her before. In fact, one of my friends told me a story about her too, how she goes from one gas-station to another (there are two in that spot, one across the street from the other) asking people for money, on a daily basis. I laughed to myself and when I was done with the gas, I grabbed some change out of my ashtray and gave it to her as I was walking to go pay in the gas-station.

Once inside, I put my bills on the counter but I noticed an older man/customer’s eyes were fixed on me. When I looked at him, he asked me if I had given the woman any money.

“Yes, I gave her some change.”

My answer was not welcomed because he quickly replied in a displeased manner that I should know that I was not helping her and that she was going to take my money and go buy drugs. When I asked him if he was doing anything about her asking for money he told me that the previous week he had given her twenty dollars, bus fare and an address to some place where she could “get cleaned-up”. He continued to say that she took his money and bought drugs with it and that she never went to “get cleaned-up”.

“Well, your method didn’t work that well now, did it?” His frustration and lack of an answer made me giggle to myself again. That lady did not want to get “cleaned-up” and she never asked for help to get “cleaned-up”. If I wanted her to get cleaned-up with my money, I would not have given her any.

A few weeks ago, I was cutting the corner of a major intersection by driving through a lot of a gas-station (I do that a lot, so I don’t have to wait for the red lights when I am making a left-hand turn), when I noticed an elderly lady (in her late sixties or early seventies) with all white hair, sitting-down on the sidewalk by the entrance to the gas-station. She was wearing a flimsy cloth jacket and a pair of light blue pants. It was rather late, perhaps eleven thirty or close to midnight. That was unusual: she was not a regular and that is not exactly a "good area" to be hanging around, especially at that time. I knew that because I am a regular (driving through there and all). As I was about to pull-out of the gas-station (I was only driving-through to begin with) on the other side of the lot, I thought I’d stop and see what that lady was doing there.

I put the car in reverse and I drove backwards, stopping about fifteen feet away from the entrance to the gas-station and to where she was sitting. Stopping there was as planned as stopping to begin with. Having that distance to walk gave me the time to notice (the gas-station was well light) that her cloths were quite clean and in a decent condition. I took a slow pace and stopped when I was about two feet away. To my right was the door to the gas-station, in front of me, on the ground was sitting an elderly lady. She calmly looked-up at me.

“What are you doing here?" I asked.

“Just trying to make something. I’m homeless.” Her words were as calm and accepting as her look. I gave her a twenty and went inside where I bought a pack of cigarettes with another twenty and on my way out I gave her the rest I had from that too.

She was surprised. She stuttered a little, said something about me making her day and that she wished that god would help me. I told her that she might need the help more than I do and left. I find that those to whom I give money to on the street all wish god to bless me. Maybe they should wish the blessings on themselves a little too. Or maybe they already do … I will have to ask one of them about that once.

It is all about perception. I look at a “homeless” person and I drop the “homeless” part therefore, leaving just “a person”. So, I see a person who approaches me (or I approach them) and asks me for a favor (money) – I have had people approach me for a ride before (hitch-hikers), or other things. It makes no difference to me. If I can help-out with someone’s request, I most likely will (there are of course times when doing otherwise is needed). I give money to those who ask because they ask me and because I can give. I refrain from having pity for people. I gave the elderly woman money because that is what she asked for. I also perhaps gave her more than she would have expected to let her know that she could get whatever she really wanted and perhaps more. I have said it many times: pity is detrimental in many ways. Pity makes people weak, unworthy; it belittles the spirit. Pity is the quick-sand of sorrow and depression; I am not fond of it.

Why do you give? Or not give?


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