Most people I know give coins or small notes to those who beg in the street or sell goods on buses. I know the latter are technically salesmen, but considering they often tell sad stories or receive cash from people who don’t want their goods, I’m including them here.
I give money too. Life isn’t fair and that’s increasingly obvious the longer you live in Latin America. I don’t believe in looking a starving man in the eye and telling him, probably untruthfully, that I’m going to give my quid to a charity that will tackle the cause of his hunger. I appreciate the work those charities do but a) I know I’m too disorganised and b) well, he’s hungry now.
But I am very capable of grumpiness, prejudice and making random, emotion-based decisions, which has somehow led me to create a complex Code of Ethics that dictates whether or not I hand over my cash. The whole thing is probably very unfair, hence why I’m sharing:
I do give money if…
1) A bus seller has engaging patter
A man entered my bus today when I was in no mood to hand over money. But when he said: “Look, I know everybody here has a sad story about love, poverty, their family and their health and well… long pause… I wish I was different, but that’s life…” I found myself reaching for my wallet for the honesty of it all. I have nothing against emotional blackmail either. That’s surely all Apple is doing when it pretends owning an iPhone5 somehow makes you cooler.
2) If the bus driver is an asshole
One day a bus driver was rude to me and stole my 50 pesos change. He then proceeded to berate an elderly man who entered the bus to beg. I handed over every coin I had, because everyone knows nothing brightens your day more than a good dose of passive aggression. It didn’t do the old man any harm either.
3) If the person asking happens to live near me
There’s a homeless man who has, by all accounts, lived in my street for 14 years and has never been known to cause anyone any harm. Some days I give him coins, some days I don’t, but he gives me a friendly wave every day anyway. I know he is a crack addict but I still give him money. While that might be unpalatable for some, I’m just not best placed to judge the problems of someone who has subsequently lived at the mercy of the elements for a decade-and-a-half. Poor sod.
4) If it’s raining
Bogotá is horrible when it rains. If you’re swimming through that to beg or sell pencils, well, you deserve to achieve something.
5) If the person is attractive
I told you I was twisted. But I’ve given money to both men and women before on the basis that, beneath the dirt and air of frustrated shame, they are attractive. Given the supposedly scientific studies that claim being attractive increases your chances in life, I wonder how different life might have been had fate showed them another hand.
I don’t give money if…
1) The person is the third person to get on my bus
They say the third hiker will always be bitten by a snake; the first person wakes it, the second person disturbs it and the, er, third person dies. I like to think there is something philosophical about the fact that by the third person on a single bus journey I’ve completely run out of empathy. But possibly there’s not.
2) They show me an open wound
Perhaps some readers will hate this post on the basis that rogue evils like ourselves encourage and perpetuate the begging that ruins their day (I don’t know what the alternative is though? Turning up your iPod and hoping the offender dies quietly in a corner?) But I draw the line at encouraging someone to show me an open wound. I know it should probably make me more sympathetic.
3) The person calls me a gringa
Ha! Told you it was arbitrary. I hate being called a gringa quite possibly because the word relates to the United States and I was born and raised on another continent entirely. Call a Venetian a Martian and you wouldn’t expect them to part with any cash either, would you?
So there you have it. Apologies to those who find it morally abhorrent to give money away in a random fashion but, to the rest of you, what’s your system? Do you even have one?