A few days ago, Heather Armstrong posed a question on her blog:
Indulge me for a second and consider this scenario: let’s say you’re given the opportunity to donate some money to a desperate family who would use it to feed their children, but were only able to do so if you donated the same amount of money to someone you knew would use it to buy crack. Would you do it?
The responses were interesting: lots of yes answers, peppered with people who had some angry ideas that the question was really about taxes and how they shouldn’t have to support people on welfare.
I was really struck by the responses of people to her second blog post about the question; the one where she explained WHY she asked it:
But something happened during that Christmas vacation that changed a fundamental part of me, and I bet you he doesn’t even remember this. I’d forgotten about it until last week when my brother and I met for lunch, and sitting there across from him at that sushi restaurant and listening to his stories I remembered what a profound effect his influence has had on me.
It was Christmas 1990, and he and I went shopping at a local mall to find gifts for the family. It was bitterly cold outside made worse by a cutting wet breeze, winters in Memphis are like that, and as we pulled out of the parking lot at the mall we passed a man standing on the median of the road selling single stem roses for $2. He was wearily disheveled, not dressed at all for the weather, and looked like he hadn’t eaten in days. He could have been starving, but he also could have been a drug addict. I’ll never know.
We’d always been taught that you ignore these people, they’ll take your money and use it to buy booze, or they’re somehow scamming you. Better to keep your money and do something more productive with it. Except Ranger pulled right up to the man, handed him a twenty dollar bill and said, “I’d like a rose for my sister,” and he pointed toward the passenger seat. “I haven’t seen her in months.”
The man looked down at the bill as if he were holding a fragile newborn animal, and his hands started to shake.
“Aw man,” he said. “I ain’t got no change for this. You got something smaller?”
“No,” said Ranger, and then as he shifted the car into drive he continued, “Please keep it.”
The window was still down as the car pulled away, and I’ll never forget how he called after us, “YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, MAN! YOU’LL NEVER KNOW!”
As we pulled up to a stop light in silence Ranger finally spoke up. “I saw him when we first drove into the parking lot hours ago. No telling how long he’s been out there, and he doesn’t have change for a twenty? LET HIM HAVE MY TWENTY.”
The answers to THIS post are striking: — lots of people saying that they’d rather give money to the homeless than to Lehman Brothers executives.