Friday, March 27, 2009

sympathy and judgment

I confess....that I have sympathy but also limitations.

My recent Facebook update led to a bit of a debate and made me think quite a bit. I commented on feeling less inclined to give to a homeless person whom I'd seen smoking or on a cell phone. My liberal-side friends were a bit put-off by this.

On the cell phone side, one pointed out that you can't exactly have a landline to look for jobs if you are homeless. I suppose that's a fair point. I will say his phone looked nicer than mine don't need bells & whistles for job calls. And he was very much trying to hide his conversation which made it look pretty suspect. It also wouldn't have been during business hours...but I do admit there could be a rationale for the phone generally.

On the smoking side, there was more debate and I was criticized for judging. In general, I think most homeless people are victims of circumstance. I'd wager most also made some bad choices along the way, but many didn't make any worse choices than I've probably made...they just didn't have the luck I did in some aspects of their lives. I do feel bad for them and hope that their lives turn around. I do not think that most of them deserve their fate (though I can't go so far as to say that none do...blanket statements are rarely the best).

That said, I think I stand by my reluctance to give to the smoker over the non-smoker. If you are asking for my money, I think I do get a bit of a right to judge how you might spend it and smoking makes me question the choice that will be made. I can see that it might be one of the limited pleasures in a hard life, but I still prefer it not be where my money goes. I don't donate to charities if they are going to use my money for what I deem are unworthy causes and I personally find lunch worthier than a smoke. I'm not saying that the smoking homeless man is a bad person. I don't see how I could make that conclusion from my limited set of facts. But if you ask for my money, I get the right to make a judgment on your spending habits.

I pass people asking for money on a daily basis. I wish I could buy them each a turkey sandwich. But that isn't realistic for me either. Just like I can't donate to every charitable organization, or even every worthwhile one. Deciding where to donate is certainly a form of judgment...but it isn't the same thing as judging the person as a whole. And I think it is my right.

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