Sunday, May 03, 2009

What are the ethics of panhandling?

I was pretty sure that the guy was lying to me, but does that justify my lying to him? This morning, as I was out and about running errands, I decided to stop at a little place with tables outside. (The place was packed inside, but because the weather was cold-ish, I was almost alone on the patio.)

Sipping my coffee and waiting for my breakfast, I was working on my morning's itinerary when I suddenly heard the voice. "Excuse me, sir…" he said this as he approached through the mostly vacant tables. Due to the breeze, I didn’t catch whiff of him until he was almost up to the table.

The tramp was of indeterminate age, in definite need of some hygienic overhauling, and dressed in clothing that looked as if they had been previously used to clean-up a beach after a major toxic waste spill. He was listing to one side and walked with a limp.

He was half-way through his sob story about needing a couple bucks for bus fair and being stranded here in Denver, and just needing to get home when he reached the table. "Can you help me out and give me a couple bucks?" he asked.

"No, sorry." I said and returned to my attention to the list.

But that leads me to the question here. In all likelihood, his premise on which his request was based was almost certainly false. So the fact that I could have given him money, I just wouldn't! Am I a horrible person for not wanting to "help him out"?

I give money to charities, I pay taxes, am I obligated to do more? (Heck… I sound like Scrooge here: "…are there no prisons, are there no workhouses. ") But seriously, where does one draw the line? I would love to hear your ideas on this...

Wherever you are, I hope you are free of ethical quandaries!

Don Bergquist – May 03, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA

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