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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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    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you for the great comment you left me Mrs. Lynda. I agree wholeheartedly with you on this. All the best!

      Thank you again Paradise for your comments. I think that comments are very important - I think conversations are very important. Thank you for your time!

      Mr. Alastar Packer, homeless people are just as divers and as problematic as anyone else. Each one has their individual personality, problems, griefs, wants, needs, etc.

      I thank you for your generosity and understanding.

      Jec21966, your comment is priceless! Thank you for stopping by to comment. All the best.

    • jec21966 profile image

      jec21966 6 years ago

      I have been homeless, I have lived a good life, I have worn rags, and I have had riches...

      Giving for me is natural, there is no pity, for me it is a blessing... When I have a bad day, or feel overwhelmed I get off my butt and go and visit the elderly, I do something for someone, I give of myself to another...

      What I am doing is taking the focus off of me, in the end I find a blessing from it, an internal peace.. it may not solve all my problems, but in the end I always find that I am less stressed...

      With less stress seems to come more clear answers to my lifes problems...

      Ohhhh and one thing I forgot is alot of prayer, I pray that my actions will be a blessing on others, not only for the moment but long term...

      When I was homeless I would say God Bless you when some one offered a hand for one reason, I was already blessed by God he put you there at that moment... In return I wanted God to bless you for your act of kindness...

      Loved your writings if you get a chance check out mine, I am new here but will be speaking of my homeless times as well as the good times...

      God will bless you for your kindness

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thats very kind and decent of you Mr. Happy. Your alright. A friend and myself noticed a woman standing on the corner in front of some woods with a help me sign saying she was sleeping in those woods. Saw her there everyday for a week. Finally my friend got up several bags of good canned food and took it to her. The response? Hell I don't want that , give me money!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I found this to be a very thought-provoking article. You're right--it's demeaning and patronizing to pity someone. The motive for giving should be completely stringless--you give because you want to give; or, becasue the person you are giving to needs you to give them something. Those are the two good reasons to give.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great article. I try to separate my need to feel good giving from their need to receive... to give unconditionally.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      I also give what little I have on hand to those in "need." Is it pity? No, I don't think so. More a sense of it being the right thing to do -- period. I do it for myself because it makes me feel good. (I guess that's somewhat of an egocentric statement.) Not too long ago, a friend told me that all I was doing was "enabling" them in their problems. "So?" I said.

      Does the giving of amounts we will never miss bestow on us the right to judge? I don't think so. What's it to me if the recipient uses that money to buy a bowl of soup, or to buy cheap wine or drugs? Nothing. I imagine if I were the one living on the street, I'd probably want drugs to feel better, too.

      We hear this idea that recipients must be "worthy" of our donations -- whether given privately or through a public government agency. All people are worthy in one form or another, and if giving is coupled with judgement, then it is worthless.

      Great hub, Happy. Lynda

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 6 years ago from Isle of Man

      I also think that you might find James A Watkins latest hub called William Wilberforce of interest. Please let me know if you do decide to read it.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Hello Mr. Amillar! What a coincidence, I feel no pity for banks and corporations either. (lol) Thank you for your time! Cheers.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 6 years ago from Isle of Man

      This is a beautiful and very honest expression of love from a heart of gold. No misunderstandings here just love. You are a wonderful person and the people you help can only benefit in a positive way from you giving spirit. Thank you for writing such a great hub Wolfman Jack and may Wakan Tanka walk with you and all who come in contact with you.

    • amillar profile image

      amillar 6 years ago from Scotland, UK

      I don't feel pity for the banks and corporations when they get their handouts - maybe that has something to do with perception.

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 6 years ago from West Coast

      Mr. Happy...very touching hub. Where I live, the climate is quite mild. It might dip to 30 during the winter, snow never stays more than a couple of days, and that, a light frosting. Just a few miles inland, it's a different story. We have people who live in the bushes by the beach year round. Most are druggies and alcoholics. Some, are working homeless, many others bum change at the shopping malls entrances. Occassionally, I give them money. I've heard that on a good day, they can get up to 150 dollars. I don't make that in a day. It's not the issue. I don't do it out of pity, and I don't pat myself on the back about it. It's between me, and my "spirit which dwells in all things", and a "Thank you" is always nice from the person I give to. If each of us contributed...say, once a week, to a random act of kindness, maybe we can change the world. Too much hate and suspicion have really screwed everything up. Voting you up again. Keep writing! Peace

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Mr. Sparks, I wish and trust that you will, someday have "the resources to do more". It is so, or now it is.

      I also wish you will overcome whatever you will need to overcome. All the best.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog Mr. Sparks!

      I can only imagine the problem of poverty in Buenos Aires. I agree with you that giving money can be seen as "one of the less influential acts of generosity" but I do not give money because I am generous. I give when I am asked to give, if I can of course. I give because I am asked to and because I can/will - that's all.


    • Mark Sparks profile image

      Mark Sparks 6 years ago from Charlottesville, Virginia

      There were a lot of beggars in Buenos Aires, hwere I lived for five months. I gave pesos to a lot of them. Thinking back on it now, I guess I mostly did it out of pity. But when I could, I struck up conversations with them.

      Giving money like that is probably one of the less influential acts of generosity. Someday I hope to have the resources to do more.