I am a selfish person. I know this. I am also judgmental. These are two of my major flaws, and I do try to work on them. (Laziness, I just accept and go with).
A friend posted a link to this video - of course it's only on Facebook, so I can't put a link here. The summary: a dude goes through a rich, suburban foodcourt asking for food. He's clean, polite, and everybody says no. Cut to a park where a homeless guy is sleeping. Dudes 2 and 3 offer said homeless guy a bag of food - not a huge amount, but a good sized meal. Dude 1, from the food court, comes along and asks homeless dude for some food, which homeless dude happily shares.
Lessons? I guess there are a lot of them. Mostly, though, I think, is that having stuff makes you afraid of losing stuff. We're afraid to share with the beggar because we're afraid he has an ulterior motive and will try to take us for more. That's usually the reason people say no to beggars. It's not usually judgment, though sometimes it is. It's fear.
I have three examples in my past that I remember where I tried to be generous.
The first was when I was accompanying some of my dorm-mates to the Owl's Nest. I went to Temple in the height of the crack epidemic. It was a rather... interesting time to live on a middle-class island in the middle of North Philadelphia. So, crossing Broad Street at night in winter to go to a pizza joint was not something this farm-raised girl was used to. Also, please note, I was just going. I had no money to spend on pizza.
So, we're jay-walking across the 4 lane road. On the median, there was a woman, shivering and crying. Her heat had been turned off. Her kids were cold. She needed help.
I had no money, but I gave her my only scarf and gloves.
The next night, I was coming back from the library, or someplace... I don't remember where. But she was on a different corner, shivering, crying, scarfless, gloveless, begging for money. I was also shivering, scarfless, and gloveless. And I felt like a complete rube. It was the last time I gave anything away when I was in college. I remember feeling justified in this selfishness when I was walking down broad street to my home in South Philly (LOOOOONG walk, but saved me the SEPTA token) and I saw the woman who begged for quarters at the SEPTA stop getting into her car. Her car.
Years later, I was in the UK with my husband. It was our trip for ourselves - we had saved, we hadn't had kids yet. One of the things we did was stay in Birmingham (a total pit) because it was a train hub and we got trailpasses. Next to the train station was a Burger King. Outside the BK was a girl - probably my age at the time, maybe 5 years younger. She had a dog with her. She was hungry, wanted a milk shake. Now, I had been burned before. But the dog looked hungry. So I said, yeah, I'll get you a meal. What do you want? Fish sandwich and a milkshake, please, she replied. So, I went in and got her a fish sandwich and a bottle of water. Because I figured the dog could drink the water, but milkshakes are bad for dogs.
She yelled at me that I couldn't even take an order, then tried to go in and exchange what I had gotten for a milkshake. The BK manager gave me a very dirty look, as though it was my fault this woman was making a scene because I had purchased food and given it to her.
The last incident was the only time I did direct charity was through my church. We have this thing going with a bunch of other churches. Interfaith Hospitality. One of the churches donates the building - a former rectory. The rest of us provide chaperones and food. They invite families who are down on their luck. Missed a rent payment, had an unexpected bill, whatever the situation. They are families with young children who are temporarily homeless. We provide food and shelter for a few weeks until they get on their feet.
So, we volunteered to do a meal. It was December, and it was really, really cold. I remember being pregnant for Tim. Sean was 2 years old. He "helped" me make cookies and homemade bread. John made a huge lasagne and a big salad. The lady from church who had done this before and was going to show us the ropes made a big ham and green beans. It was a good spread for the 2 or 3 families who were in residence.
We got there, and the one mother proceed to sneer at our food, saying she was Muslim and didn't eat no pork products. She then went over to the thermostat and turned up the heat to a very high temperature, saying she was cold. Except, it was at least 75 degrees in there already, because it was a lot warmer than my house.
The families eventually all came in, ate the lasagne (it had sausage in it, but the other two families were ok with that), the first family heated up frozen entrees in the microwave since they didn't eat no pork, then they took all the cookies, took the bread, and left the room. We were told we were supposed to encourage socialization - eat with them, watch television or play games - but they didn't want anything from us. Not really. And they really, really didn't like us much. I guess they felt we were judging them, and to be truthful, I was. I didn't fault them for bad economic luck. I faulted them for bad manners and lack of respect for what they had been given. I was mostly angry because they had been so rude to that little old lady from my church.
I guess what it comes down to is that these folks all acted as though they were owed a certain something, and when I tried to give them something, they were angry - not necessarily with me, but just angry. I took it personally.
Mostly, now, I've stopped giving directly to people because I don't like feeling foolish. I don't like feeling that I've been somebody's mark. I'll take being called a selfish white bitch (that happened twice this school year alone) because you know what? I am.
Sadly, I'm more okay with being called that than feeling like I've been used. Sadly, I am surprised when I say hello or good morning to the folks in the soup kitchen or free breakfast line say hi back, with no ulterior motive. Sadly, I feel like I have to justify to myself that I do give away blah blah blah as I sit in my nice house on my personal computer with wifi.
Guess I have some more work to do.