Picked up trash along the main road near my house again today. Replaced the trash bag at the bus stop I put out a couple weeks ago. Talked with a couple of ladies at the corner when one asked about my trash bags. Also got a ‘thank you’ from a passing runner which gave me a smile.
You are walking down the street in New York City with $10 of disposable income in your pocket. You come to a corner with a hot dog vendor on one side and a beggar on the other. The beggar looks like he’s been drinking; the hot dog vendor looks like an upstanding citizen. How, if at all, do you distribute the $10 in your pocket, and why?
The Freakonomics folks gathered together several prominent thinkers, entrepreneurs and authors and asked them what their thoughts were on giving money to the street people. The answers ranged, as expected, from the thoughtful to the blunt.
What caught my attention was not what was said, but what was not said.
Not one of those interviewed said anything about the actual people on the streets. They only talked about themselves. They used terms like beggar and ‘folks in need’. One went on a long diatribe about how giving to beggars only encourages more begging (without supporting evidence). One philosophized on his distaste for economics. One responded with the morally superior comment, “I give enough to anonymous people via charity”.
No personal story was given about an interaction with a homeless person. None of them gave any indication that the people on the street were human. The street people were just … academic.
Their response is certainly typical of many of us, and I won’t put forth any moral judgements against any of the respondents. I am as guilty as the next person of dehumanizing a person on the street.
But I will make a personal resolution to try to at least find out the name of a homeless person the next chance I get.
They are people too.