Some thoughts at 3:00AM on charity, beggars and tipping….

I occasionally find myself confronted or solicited by a beggar in the street. I only rarely give them something, even though in other situations I feel that I am generous. For instance, having been a waiter for nearly ten years, dependent on tips for a living, I have always tipped very generously, even when the service may have seemed slow or inattentive, and have done so without regard to whether I will ever be back again or even see that server again. I give the additional above the payment for service not out of obligation, but in the spirit of charity, the greek χαριτος, love. If the service was indeed less than adequate through the waiter’s inattention or lack of care, then I hope the generosity may perhaps surprise them into wondering why they received it and cause them to reflect. If the less than adequate service was due to something out of their control, then I hope they may perhaps see in it a sign from the universe that someone understood what they were going through that day, the problems they faced in the kitchen or in their own life, that frustrated their service or robbed their attention.

But I think it a personal shortcoming when I turn down the beggar in the street regularly, not always because I do not have a dollar or a couple of coins in my pocket, but because I may conclude at a glance, without thought, that they are not trying hard enough, that they are lazy, or working a scam. What I overlook when I jump to that reflexive judgement is the very fact that they are in this humiliating position. They need and can see no other way than begging of a stranger. And the fault is not that I have misjudged them. They may indeed have any or all of the faults that I have judged in them. But that is my judgement, not my knowledge. What I know is what is presented to me, their need. And that is presented to me by God in their face. My fault is to pass over what the Universe presents directly to my knowledge, and to act on what I do not know in my judgement.

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts at 3:00AM on charity, beggars and tipping….

  1. I almost never give money to people on the street unless they are doing music. I learned in Boston that many of those on the street are just scamming people. Yes, they are trying to “earn” a living, but by lying about their circumstances. So you shouldn’t feel bad about the guy on the street who tells you he just needs a dollar for a cup of coffee or to take the bus. Maybe yes and maybe no, but since you can’t know and you can’t give money to every one, I don’t feel bad about walking by. Better to buy them a coffee or muffin if you want to do something.

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