Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Cruel Charity: Merit over Need


    ה כִּי-תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ, רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ, וְחָדַלְתָּ, מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ--עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב, עִמּוֹ.

    5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under its burden, thou shalt forbear to pass by him; thou shalt surely release it with him. {S}

    ~Exodus 23: 5


There is a homeless man who lives outside of the Duane Reade right next to Brookdale.

He's a nice enough fellow. He's cheerful, charismatic, jovial, makes people's days. He banters, makes polite conversation, is relatively sweet. He can be quite hilarious. You give him money and he breaks out into hallelujahs. Depending on your religion, he praises your God. If you're Jewish, it's Jehovah. If you're Christian, it's Jesus. That's how he operates.

The first couple times I saw him, I gave him money- a dollar, some change, whatever it may have been. But I refuse to give him money anymore.

So I was sitting in someone's room when her roommate, an extremely good-hearted and noble individual entered the room, seeming pleased with herself, and informed us that she and her friends had bought the man lunch. They felt that they had done a good deed, a mitzvah, were good Jews. I was slightly taken aback by how pleased they were, and the intimation that as Jews we are supposed to not only buy food for this man but give him money, and said something like, "I guess I take the Ayn Randian approach."

And that is what lead to an extremely heated discussion in which I am, apparently, cruel.

This is what Ayn Rand writes (in shortened version.) This is specifically brought up in Atlas Shrugged, but since I do not have the book in front of me, this is the shortened version.

There is such a thing as the deserving and the undeserving poor. And on a whole, we give to the deserving poor. What does that mean?

In effect, this is the speech regarding ideals and this is the money speech.

In very simplistic terms, Ayn Rand says that one helps out those that deserve help. A man who is down on his luck, who is trying his hardest to get a job but who is unsuccessful, a man who is searching and trying and working but failing through no fault of his own, because he has enemies or is discrimated against or has been laid off without cause...such a person is deserving of help. Because such a person is trying. He is trying to work, to produce, to make money. Such a person has his dignity and self-respect and for him, it is utterly degrading, disheartening and awful to have to beg. He hates it. He would much rather be on his own too feet, supporting himself, and no job is too menial or too low. He simply needs an opportunity, and he is doing his best to create such an opportunity for himself.

Or perhaps there is a system that is in place where no matter how hard the man does try, again, through no fault of his own, he simply cannot find work. Maybe these are the Jews in Nazi Germany, forbidden to work. Maybe there is a war taking place, and opportunities are scarce and rare.

Under these conditions, when the person is trying, of course give him money! Because he is going to put that money to good use, he is going to try to build himself up and get himself into a position where he can earn money and support himself. That is his goal.

But there are a lot of homeless people in New York.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason and some of those reasons are absolutely legitimate. There are people who really were in the Vietnam war, people who have been hurt or abused or are crippled or handicapped or are mentally ill, and they really do have legitimate reasons for not working or trying to earn money. But there are other people as well. And some of those people are scammers and some of them are frauds and some of them are just trying to take advantage of another person's good nature.

And here is what I want to know.

This man, the Duane Reade homeless man, is there very frequently. He could be said to live outside of the Duane Reade near Stern. Every single day he is there with his Diet Coke cup asking for money.

What is to prevent him from getting a job? There are facilities, resources and places for people like him, people who are in good enough health to banter and converse and smile at others, to hold out cups and grin. This is a man who appears to be in good health (notice I say appears; it could be his not) and whose mind certainly seems to be in working order, and yet he spends his life sitting outside a Duane Reade store holding up his cup.

Why should I be obligated to give him money? Why does it fall to me? Why is it a mitzvah to provide this man who ostensibly could be earning money or looking for a job, with sustenance? Is he trying? Is he attempting to be productive?

I say no.

Is that judgmental? Absolutely. But I am a college student, I don't have enough money for everyone, I certainly don't have money for all the homeless people in New York, and there is no way that I am going to give money to a man who appears to have chosen to live his life on people's handouts rather than being productive. Because his only claim upon me is his need. When he holds out that cup, he is claiming, "I need, therefore you should give." But I do not think that is a valid claim. The statement, "I am trying, therefore you should give," in contrast, is.

And that is why, when I see homeless people who are playing musical instruments or challenging bystanders to timed chess games or banging on drums, people who are in some way contributing to society, I will give them money. Because they deserve it! And you're right, perhaps they have chosen to live this way as well. But they are providing a service. They're playing the saxophone or breakdancing in the subway station or selling batteries. The fact is, they are trying. They are doing something.

So the person with whom I was arguing was appalled by my statements. Firstly, I can't know what's going on with a person. Maybe he's actually bipolar and mentally ill and can't hold a job and the only thing he can do is sit outside Duane Reade holding a cup.

Then I offered an example. I said, "What about me? Suppose I put on some ratty old clothes and decided, hey, I, Chana, ignoring all talents and abilities that I have, am going to bum around on the street. I'm going to sit outside Duane Reade with my Diet Coke cup and ask for money and beg. Are you saying that it's a mitzvah to help me?"

"Well, you, Chana, would not last one week on the street. And-and- have you ever tried to beg?"

"No," I said.

"Begging is degrading," she said, and told me a story. She was in Israel and there was this woman with her cart outside a store. She begged for challah for Shabbos, so this girl went and bought her challah. Then she begged for a yartzheit candle, so this girl went and bought it for her. It continued in this fashion until the homeless woman begged for 50 shekels for a taxi.

To me, it seems obvious that this woman was taking advantage of a seminary girl's kindness. But, since the girl I am speaking about is a noble and good individual, she told me that she went and begged for the 50 shekels from other people. On behalf of this woman.

I would never do that.

If this woman needs it so much, then she should beg for it herself. But I? I am going to be recruited into the effort to help a woman I don't even know find money for a taxicab? Why? To do a good deed? Well, tell me, why is this considered a good deed? If you're going to be noble, then be really noble- why spend the fifty shekels here to get her a taxi when you could spend it on food for some other individual?

I believe in helping people who can be helped, who are trying their best, who strive to be productive members of society, who hate the fact that they are in a position where they have to beg. But when someone is so accustomed to it that they don't care at all, they don't seem to have any self-respect, they simply ask anyone and everyone, when they're not even trying, I cannot conceive of any reason that it should be considered a mitzvah to help him.

And that is the idea I brought up and the verse at the top of this post- when the burdens fall from your enemy's donkey, you shall surely help him. But note the last words- you do it with him. And I believe it is Rashi who says that if the man refuses to aid you you have absolutely no obligation to put the packages back all by yourself.

To which the girl I was speaking to responded, "But that's not peshat."

That doesn't mean it isn't a legitimate approach. There is absolutely no reason that it is my responsibility to give money to and care for someone else when they refuse to aid me, when I am not doing it with them but rather for them. In fact, someone who does give them the money or food is only cementing their approach rather than forcing them to work on their own. People have no claim upon me because of their need; if that were the case the whole world could guilt me into giving money to them. They do have a legitimate claim if they are trying their best but for reasons beyond their control, it's not working out.

This need-oriented approach does not work throughout life. I do not get a job because I need it; I get a job because I am talented and skilled and my talents are correct for that job. And I argue it is the same; one does not receive money because they need it; they receive it because they deserve it. In which case, there's really no such thing as "charity," as it were, because you are not giving money to the undeserving, but to the deserving, in which case there is no form of superiority involved. There need be no superiority, pity or condescension, because what you're really saying when you give money is, "I believe in you. I know this is a rough time for you, but I believe that you are trying and you are going to be in a position where you will be able to support yourself and be a productive member of society." You are investing in the person. It is a relationship based on equality; you are helping someone who is truly interested in helping himself.

And that, I would argue, is the true idealism. Not allowing yourself to be taken advantage of, not giving to people who show absolutely no effort or desire to better their lot. No, not this. But supporting those whose efforts you believe in, whose ideas you believe in, supporting those who not only need but who deserve.

You will notice that one of the criteria for judges and leaders it that they be wealthy. There is no crime in having money. There is no shame or guilt in being rich. The question is how one uses one's wealth, what causes they support, which charities and which people.

I am told that this approach is cold, judgmental, unethical, un-Jewish. I am told that I ought to feel it a mitzvah to give to all. I am told that it would have been better had I said, "I don't want to give to this man" rather than giving the reasons I did. And I absolutely agree that I don't know every side to the story. I may be completely wrong. This man may be trying his hardest, maybe somehow he really is looking for a job or he really can't work. I find that immensely hard to believe; at the very least he seems the kind of person who could make an excellent cashier, personable and friendly. Nevertheless, if I tried to delude myself under the auspice of attempting to judge favorably, I could maybe make myself believe that.

But I see no reason to do that. We are given our reason and our intellects, and the way we relate to the world is through them. Rationally speaking, the time this man spends sitting outside Duane Reade with a cup could be spent looking for a job. And it is his choice not to do that. In which case, I certainly don't feel obligated to support him, or to donate to his cause.

The person to whom I was speaking told me that I ought to go over to him and ask him why he doesn't have a job- politely. Or find out his story, before I can judge. I personally don't think I have any responsibility to do that. Why should I be obligated to go up to a homeless man and say, "Please tell me your story and explain to me why you have no job and seem to sit here all day rather than looking for one" (which, by the way, I think is already more cruel because now I'm actively accusing him rather than passively not giving to his cause) before I can determine whether or not to give him money? Maybe it would be a nice thing to do, certainly it'd be nice to hear his story, but I certainly don't see it as my responsibility.

The statement the person to whom I was talking kept on making was, "It's not your place." It's not my place to judge people, to evaluate them and sum them up and determine their worth and productivity level. It's not my place, I am not supposed to do this, and therefore I am supposed to give, to the trumpet-playing homeless man and the one with the cup- alike.

But why isn't it my place? Whose place is it if not mine? How else am I to determine whom to give money to and whom not to? I should simply give to everyone? How come? Why shouldn't there be standards? Why should I forego my right to a rational decision-making process and instead decide that it is their need that determines what I give, rather than their ability and the extent to which they try?

I only have to put the packages back on the donkey with him. It may be a commendable thing to do it all by yourself, but I think it is also a stupid thing to do.

    Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss – the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery – that you must offer them values, not wounds – that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best your money can find. And when men live by trade – with reason, not force, as their final arbiter – it is the best product that wins, the best performance, then man of best judgment and highest ability – and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

    ~Atlas Shrugged

And if it is, then I am evil.

But I am also- according to the very laws of the Torah, which believe in reward and punishment, this for that, legal structure, responsibility, action and consequence- right.

In fact,

    "Tzedakah" is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call "charity" in English: giving aid, assistance, and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. But the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word "charity" suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word "tzedakah" is derived from the Hebrew root Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice, or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due. (emph. mine)

    ~Source

Giving the poor their due. Acting out of a sense of justice and righteousness, giving to those who deserve and who merit, not giving merely to those whose only claim is their need.

Also see the Talmud on Tzedaka.

Note this: "The Sages, however, said: If he has the means and does not wish to maintain himself [at his own expense] no one need feel any concern about him." To what, however, is the text, "You shall lend him" to be applied? The Torah employs ordinary phraseology.

וחכ"א יש לו ואינו רוצה להתפרנס אין נזקקין לו ואלא מה אני מקיים תעביטנו דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם

-Ketubot 67b

Someone who has and does not wish to mantain himself- no one need feel any concern about him. This is probably stated referring to money. But tell me, is it any less true when referring to talent and the mind? Someone who has the ability, capacity, talent and skill to support himself in some kind of job but does not wish to- shouldn't the same statement apply? "No one need feel any concern about him."

Perhaps my cruel charity is not so cruel, after all.

Perhaps I am not as evil as I seem.

35 comments:

SJ said...

Indeed.
The idea of a functioning society is to reward positive behavior and punish negative behavior. So, by giving, should we positively reinforce this man's decision to leech off society rather than being proactive to help himself?(That is, assuming that it is, as it appears, his decision, rather than caused by a complex set of extenuating circumstances which we simply have no way of knowing.) Obviously, compassion is good—so give the first time you see him. But when he’s there every day, when four Stern girls have already bought him lunch, you begin to see that this is a choice. And it is not a choice that I choose to support.

Ezzie said...

I think you will very much enjoy the dvar Torah someone sent in for Purim!

Of course it is your place to judge, when someone asks you to continuously support them. Otherwise, what stops anyone from leeching off of others? We would be foolish to offer money to every outstretched hand, with no questions asked - not only for those who are giving, but for those who are receiving for legitimate concerns. More than we lose out from a scammer or someone who shows no interest in helping themselves, those who do not receive the funds that went to the scammer are far more seriously hurt.

We all have limited funds to give to worthwhile causes... particularly a college student. It makes no sense to give those limited funds to a person who is at best seriously questionable, at worst a complete scam artist, when others who are verified to be in legitimate need suffer.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
this is an excellent post. The girls at Stern need to realize that they are this man's enablers. They are supporting his negative learned behavior. Frankly,it sounds like this man is on welfare and making a bit of cash on the side daily...

Anonymous said...

"Please understand I have nothing against helping people get back on their feet. I do on the other hand have a problem with helping someone sit on their butt."
David Miller
The quote supports your argument rather well.
Kudos on being a lot wiser than your age!

Tzila said...

Excellent!!!! G-D, I am waiting for someone to back up my belief about this man which is also your belief also. But I don't know any sources that back me up and you did! I thank you for it! This man was sitting in there for 15 years! He is very much dependable on stern girls which we don't believe that we have to pay him. Exellent post!

Rare Find said...

"To which the girl I was speaking to responded, 'But that's not peshat.'"

Actually, it is the p'shat.

arnie draiman said...

you are a fantastic tzedakah thinker. right or wrong, keep up the clarity of thinking.

regarding the issue you raise, you might want to read an article inspired by danny siegel (my mentor in tzedakah and hessed - www.dannysiegel.com ).

it is written by arthur kurzweil about beggars:

www.ziv.org/begging_kurzweil.doc

let me know what you think.

arnie dramian

duby said...

(1) you should check out the WHOLE daf in Kesubos (esp. the bottom of 67b, and the top of 68a) for a clear delineation of what is Jewish charity...(see also Tosafos on the top of 68a)...and it's obviously NOT indiscriminate/blind giving...(paranthetically, ONLY on purim is there a chiyuv of "kol haposhet yad nosnim lo"..)

(2) And as for the source of "Azov Ta'azov Imo" --that you're only obligated if the owner is also helping/working--of course it's pshat!, and it's also the halacha! -- see Baba Metzia 32a in the mishna (see also the gemarah there on 32b, that you needn't help someone who saddles their animal with more than it could carry), AND that is the HALACHA see Tur Choshen Mishpat 272:7....

Halfnutcase said...

chana, I will not say that you are cruel or the like, but I will say that you are increadibly naive. (which people say I am to, so hey, join the club.)

Firstly, looking for a job takes time, it also takes the money necessary to look respectable (which I'm sure this mad does not). While he is spending all this time looking for a job, what, exactly, do you think he will be eating? How, exactly, do you think that he will keep a pair of clothes clean in order to be able to make a good impression with an employer and get a job?

These are questions that you have to consider chanah before you judge him, independant of any dissabilities he may have. Also you have to consider the aspect of helplessness. People can only try so hard, for so long without getting a reward. After that they WILL break down and quit. There is not question about this, it is simply a law of human behavior. Somepeople take longer, some people take a shorter time, but it happens to everyone eventualy.

More than likely that is what happened to this man.

And I think before you judge about merit vs. need in such a black and white manner, I think that you would do well to look back at your own education and your own needs. When peoples basic needs are not met, then they are generaly going to be totaly incapable of doing much else. IT is for this reason that gifted children so often founder in schools. They are unchallanged and bored, and therefore cannot stand to do the work. It would be equivelent to asking you to write an A a hundred times, a B a hundred times, etc. I can almost gurantee you that you will not finish all the way through the alphabet, expecialy if the only thing on the other side of that is a grade. Try it sometime. (then on you may just be stubborn enough to do it, but I digress). Imagine everything you had to do was like that, how long would you continue working before you just said that it is pointless and gave up? a day? 3? a week? a month? YOu probably couldn't continue such mindless activity for an entire year, you'd completely loose it. Then you'd never want anything to do with school.

There may well, and probably is a similar dynamic of pointlessness going on here. It may be that he has no degree and thefore has trouble getting a job that can pay for housing. Fixing such a situation would be horrendously expensive, especialy in NYC. There is so much going on here that you are being far to judgemental, and honestly I agree with the girl who told you off. I do not agree that you are cruel, but I do think that you are rediculously naive as to the cruel, inhumane, and inherantly unfair character of the job market, as well as life in general.

People do not get jobs because of just being "right" channa. They get jobs because people like the applicant.

likely in order to get him a job, and a place to stay (wholy necessary for getting a job. With out being able to list a street address where you live on the application the chances of your getting a job are nil, especialy in a place like NYC) it would require an enourmous sum of money upfront. People often stigmatize homeless people, and I think that you should be smart enough to recognize that. It holds people in to their homeless and jobless possition with no recourse to anything else. eventualy they give up trying to get a job. Stigma hurts chanah. The costs of it are real and apperant if you try to measure it.

(and that, ezzie is why our "unemployment rate" is so low. It is because we do not record those who have learned that they cannot get a job. We do not consider them in the job market, even though if offered a job they would gladly take it. This is contrasting to the much more honest and fair custome of europe who actualy record all jobless people, resulting in a much more honest and real picture of unemployment.)

Infact, I have an experiment for you. Get ahold of some raggedy clothing such as is worn by homeless people, and apply for a number of jobs (while dressed in character) and not having any kind of address to place on the form, and a borrowed phonenumber for them to call you back. See if you get even a single call back from anyone. I bet you would wont. Then you should stand back and consider again why this person may not have a job, and be unable to get one.

I am not saying that giving indescriminant money is a good thing. However concrete assistance, such as a blanket, gloves, and other essentials of clothing, or other things may very well help him. Giving everything you have does not help, but sometimes targeted assistance can help all the much the more.

Anonymous said...

HALFNUTCASE said:
"I am not saying that giving indescriminant money is a good thing. However concrete assistance, such as a blanket, gloves, and other essentials of clothing, or other things may very well help him. Giving everything you have does not help, but sometimes targeted assistance can help all the much the more."

You are forgetting the fact that this "poor" man is sitting outside Stern for MANY years . The Stern girls who continue to give him "the clothing,gloves,blanket"support his negative behavior.Why should he even try to get a job when he already has free clothes,meals and etc daily?!
Your argument lacks substance.

Halfnutcase said...

read the rest of the comment which is essentialy a proof for why it is very likely that he cannot in any way shape or form get a job anyway.

And please try and tell me again that it lacks substance.

Chana said...

Halfnutcase,

chana, I will not say that you are cruel or the like, but I will say that you are increadibly naive. (which people say I am to, so hey, join the club.)

Forgive me if I have no interest in joining this club.

Firstly, looking for a job takes time,

He certainly has the time.

it also takes the money necessary to look respectable (which I'm sure this mad does not).

He's wearing a blue shirt and jeans. That's pretty respectable.

While he is spending all this time looking for a job, what, exactly, do you think he will be eating?

The Homeless Shelter.

How, exactly, do you think that he will keep a pair of clothes clean in order to be able to make a good impression with an employer and get a job?

He has a decent pair of clothes, and if he needs others, I have no doubt he can stop by the Salvation Army thrift store and get some (and since some of my friends wear those clothes, I know that they look fine.)

These are questions that you have to consider chanah before you judge him,

And I did consider them, and do have answers to all of them.

independant of any dissabilities he may have. Also you have to consider the aspect of helplessness.

I absolutely do not. There is no such thing as "helplessness." There's oppression and discrimination which can cause being helpless, but one does not "decide" to be helpless.

People can only try so hard, for so long without getting a reward. After that they WILL break down and quit. There is not question about this, it is simply a law of human behavior.

Right...so because someone went through a lot and has decided he's quitting and sitting around asking for money, that's a valid reason for me to support him? Everyone has their sob story; I don't think that's a valid excuse.

Somepeople take longer, some people take a shorter time, but it happens to everyone eventualy.

That's a lovely view of humanity.

More than likely that is what happened to this man.

So what?

And I think before you judge about merit vs. need in such a black and white manner, I think that you would do well to look back at your own education and your own needs. When peoples basic needs are not met, then they are generaly going to be totaly incapable of doing much else.

It is true that I am very lucky to have been given what I need. But this man's basic needs ARE met. He has food. He has clothes. He's got the homeless shelter- a place to sleep. What's stopping him from getting a job? What needs do you suppose he has that arent' met?

IT is for this reason that gifted children so often founder in schools. They are unchallanged and bored, and therefore cannot stand to do the work. It would be equivelent to asking you to write an A a hundred times, a B a hundred times, etc. I can almost gurantee you that you will not finish all the way through the alphabet, expecialy if the only thing on the other side of that is a grade. Try it sometime. (then on you may just be stubborn enough to do it, but I digress). Imagine everything you had to do was like that, how long would you continue working before you just said that it is pointless and gave up? a day? 3? a week? a month?

I know a lot of people who are stuck in jobs they absolutely hate. They are boring, their bosses are unfair, and these people could be put to much better use. But you knoow what? Too bad. This is their job, they need to make money, so they keep the job. That's not ideal, but they do it anyway.

YOu probably couldn't continue such mindless activity for an entire year, you'd completely loose it. Then you'd never want anything to do with school.

Not liking the activity does not mean that one doesn't get to do it. I might hate the idea of having to take out garbage. I might find that activity degrading, stupid and mindless, simply lift and throw, lift and throw, lift and throw. But guess what? If I had no money, that's what I'd have to do.


There may well, and probably is a similar dynamic of pointlessness going on here.

Sorry, pointlessness of the work does not give you any excuse to not get a job.

It may be that he has no degree and thefore has trouble getting a job that can pay for housing.

Now that is a valid point.

Fixing such a situation would be horrendously expensive, especialy in NYC.

That's true. However, I cannot see how sitting on the street begging is any better than attempting to get a job as a cashier or something like that, for which you don't need a degree. And you still haven't explained why he can't do that.

There is so much going on here

Actually, there is not. All that you have said is that I ought to care about this man's emotional feelings. Maybe his emotional needs won't be met in a pointless job. To which I say, too bad.

that you are being far to judgemental, and honestly I agree with the girl who told you off. I do not agree that you are cruel, but I do think that you are rediculously naive as to the cruel, inhumane, and inherantly unfair character of the job market, as well as life in general.

Cruel, inhumane and inherantly unfair character of the job market? I have NO idea what you're talking about. If you are qualified and skilled, you get a job. It is that simple. If you have an attitude the like of which you are describing- namely, that the job market people are evil- then sure, I doubt you're going to get a job anytime soon. But that's not their fault; it's yours.


People do not get jobs because of just being "right" channa. They get jobs because people like the applicant.

Maybe in some systems or at some companies. I'm certain that nepotism and favoritism exists. HOWEVER, I'm also positive that there are places where, if you are qualified, you get the job. In fact, I know that through personal experience. I also know of that through others. So kindly don't claim the whole world is out to get this poor homeless man, whom, you have neglected to notice, does not even seem to TRY to get the job as opposed to TRYING and being turned away by the cruel nepotistic people who run the world.

likely in order to get him a job, and a place to stay (wholy necessary for getting a job. With out being able to list a street address where you live on the application the chances of your getting a job are nil, especialy in a place like NYC) it would require an enourmous sum of money upfront.

Also a valid point. Well done.


People often stigmatize homeless people, and I think that you should be smart enough to recognize that. It holds people in to their homeless and jobless possition with no recourse to anything else. eventualy they give up trying to get a job. Stigma hurts chanah. The costs of it are real and apperant if you try to measure it.

This is possible as well.

Infact, I have an experiment for you. Get ahold of some raggedy clothing such as is worn by homeless people, and apply for a number of jobs (while dressed in character) and not having any kind of address to place on the form, and a borrowed phonenumber for them to call you back. See if you get even a single call back from anyone. I bet you would wont. Then you should stand back and consider again why this person may not have a job, and be unable to get one.

A) He's not wearing raggedy clothes.

B) Are you suggesting there are no orginizations out there to aid the homeless in getting jobs and getting back on their feet? I find that EXTREMELY hard to believe.

I am not saying that giving indescriminant money is a good thing. However concrete assistance, such as a blanket, gloves, and other essentials of clothing, or other things may very well help him. Giving everything you have does not help, but sometimes targeted assistance can help all the much the more.

I absolutely agree that targeted assistance may and can help. I don't see why it should be my job, however.

In effect, what you've done is explained a couple things about human nature, Halfnutcase.

1. People do not like being employed in pointless/ mindless jobs.

2. They need their basic needs to be met.

3. Employers can stigmatize others.

4. Employers can be nepotistic/ unfair.

Number 1 is irrelevant. Too bad. Number 2 is also irrelevant. This man's basic needs ARE met. Numbers 3 and 4 are valid, but are subject to change depending on the different employers out there. I am POSITIVE there are organizations that exist to help homeless people get back on their feet. I would be SHOCKED if everyone is doomed, as you suggest, to being stigmatized by possible employers. In fact, here's a site/ organization that says I am right, hands-down.

You may think I'm naive, but I think you are too busy empathizing with these people to consider what is TRULY in their best interests. It is not sitting there with their Diet Coke cup outstretched.

Halfnutcase said...

Chana, firstly no one is saying that he should not get a job. That he should get a job is obviously the goal.

However I think that you are doing 2 things here:

A you are skipping some of my primary points, and

B you are conflating a couple of issues.

(and thank you for taking the time to reply as I lack your impressive attention span, such as is necessary for giving extremely long and detailed responses to queries or posts.)

First I am dealing with B.

independant of any dissabilities he may have. Also you have to consider the aspect of helplessness.

I absolutely do not. There is no such thing as "helplessness." There's oppression and discrimination which can cause being helpless, but one does not "decide" to be helpless.
(chana)

Well I think this is the first snag you have. There was a famous bit of research done on dogs a while back, used as a way to model depression. I describe it here. This also happens to people whom have been forced to do pointless activities for to long, Eventually they stop trying. But that brings us to your next missunderstanding:

I know a lot of people who are stuck in jobs they absolutely hate. They are boring, their bosses are unfair, and these people could be put to much better use. But you knoow what? Too bad. This is their job, they need to make money, so they keep the job. That's not ideal, but they do it anyway.

this is your second gross misunderstanding. A job you hate is not purposless work. A job that you hate is simply that, something that you hate. It does, however, still bring home a meaningful paycheck and keep your family fed. It does, however, still reward you in the necessary ways. Such a job cannot be compared to what I am speaking about. I tried to relate this to something that you might be able to understand, but thank g-d I see you have no experiance with this kind of thing.

The comparison is not to having a job, it is to getting a job. Chances are that the reason why he is doing what he is doing is not because he does not want to work, but because he has learned for some reason or another that he CANNOT work. DO you think for one serious instant that it is fun to sit there on that corner and banter with people? the most misserable of jobs would likely not compare. His belief that he cannot get a job may have more to do with imagined problems, as I am hinting here, or it may have to do with other problems that are more itinerate and harder to get rid of. This then is the reason why I bring up the issue of helplessness. It is almost like a kind of inertia that is difficult to get past, and that requires a great deal of effort, effort that most people cannot put forward. This is part of the trap of poverty. Those dogs would not go forward to safety even after it had been demonstrated to them that they could. Yes it is true that there are ways to get a job when you are homeless, but they involve an incredible amount of hoop jumping, and a lot of effort. Further, if memory serves, NYC does not have the greatest facilities for such things, something that my city does and because of that you do not find so many people who are homeless in my city. Likely he is daunted by the shear amount of effort needed to be put forward to get himself a job. He cannot just apply to a normal job because he does not have an address or a (possibly) a phone number. Instead he must apply to special work conditions that involve a lot of hoop jumping and are at best uncertain. After he finds employment he will be able to go from there to having a special subsidized appartment, and go from there to getting a normal job, (Although he will be hard pressed to find any livable pay, as per my comment earlier.)

The process may be complicated even if he has a degree. Those People who have a degree and apply for an appropriate job after years of not working are generally considered with suspicion and as a rule avoided unless the employer is desperate. This further is complicated by the fact that any intermediate jobs that he uses as a spring board will be harder to get as they will also look askance at someone who has a degree yet is applying for k-mart type unskilled labor.

That's true. However, I cannot see how sitting on the street begging is any better than attempting to get a job as a cashier or something like that, for which you don't need a degree. And you still haven't explained why he can't do that.

This is as I already explained. He needs a permanent address and phone number in order to apply for a job. This is why he can’t just go out and get one. there are alternatives but they are difficult.

Actually, there is not. All that you have said is that I ought to care about this man's emotional feelings. Maybe his emotional needs won't be met in a pointless job. To which I say, too bad.

I could care less if he is bored at his interm job. as I already explained boring jobs are catagoricaly different from what I am suggesting. Just to make it clear It may be that he sincerely believes that he cannot get a job because no one has hired him in a long time. After a while people naturally just give up. My statements about emotional needs more have to do with coaching him through the process and perhaps even giving him information which would be a tremendous help to him. Perhaps he does not know what is out there to help him get a job, and the only experience he has with the workforce is regular employment, which as stated needs an address and phone number to even apply?

does not even seem to TRY to get the job

Perhaps he already has tried chana, which is the biggest point I’m trying to make. Perhaps he has lost his faith in the job market and that is why he sits there with his cup. This is what I’m trying to sensitize you. It does not mean that he should sit there with his cup, but perhaps he needs a little bit of encouragement to get off of there and go jump through all the hoops necessary for him to get a job.

No one says he will be best off just sitting there with his diet coke cup. But perhaps he needs a little nudging and encouragement to try again. You ignored the biggest points in what I said, and therefore I have clarified them. I’m sure you will let your objections be known. (and sorry for what ever deserved the aggressive and reactionary attitude)

Anonymous said...

Halfnutcase said:
"No one says he will be best off just sitting there with his diet coke cup. But perhaps he needs a little nudging and encouragement to try again"
Are you EXPECTING the Stern girls to extend "little nudging and encouragememt"to this fellow? You are missing a VERY important point here-this man MADE a choice/decision years ago-he is NOT interested in getting a job.
The anon who said " your argument lacks substance" is correct.

Orthoprax said...

Halfnut,

You are naive. You could make up crazy bleedin'-heart stories for why this guy is doing what he's doing but in all likelihood they aren't remotely close to reality.

Chana,

I agree with you - I actually had a similar discussion regarding this on a different blog.

Anonymous said...

Before getting into arguments with HNC over this, you all may want to check out his latest posts on his own blog...

Sometimes these threads are not about who is right or wrong...

Rare Find said...

"While he is spending all this time looking for a job, what, exactly, do you think he will be eating?

The Homeless Shelter."

I found that humorous.

Seriously though, I don't think it should be impossible for this man to find a job. Sure, a respectable job would be hard to apply for, but what about a low-paying job so he can at least get started and make some money? The guy is sitting outside a Duane Reade! Why not go in there one day, and see if they need some help cleaning up or behind the cashier desk. If he's been there for years, as is the claim, small job opportunities are gauranteed to have sprouted up during that span. No, not accounting jobs or web design jobs or catering jobs, but simple, down to earth, everyday jobs so he can earn a small salary and get somewhere. He can bag groceries, mop a floor, or collect garbage. Not the most flattering jobs, but certainly more respectable (and productive) than sitting ont he street with a cup.

arora said...

"You are naive. You could make up crazy bleedin'-heart stories for why this guy is doing what he's doing but in all likelihood they aren't remotely close to reality."

How do you know that Orthoprax?!

When was the last time you sat with a homeless individual and really listened? What do you know of their life, their reality, their spirit.?

I have straddled two worlds; the world of the secure academic elite and the world of the homeless and the 'vagabonds'.
Not that I identify myself as/with either, but I have walked amongst them.

What I think is crucially missing here is any true appreciation for the reality of mental illness and/or the long lasting effects of a history of physical and or sexual abuse on a persons psyche, specifically in terms of learned helplessness and despair and lack of motivation and willpower.

Chana,

Have you read Ayn Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness"; specifically her essay on the ethics of emergencies? Your thoughts seem to parallel hers.

"If one's friend is in trouble, one should act to help him by whatever nonsacrificial means are appropriate. For instance, if one's friend is starving, it is not a sacrifice, but an act of integrity to give him money for food rather than buy some insignificant gadget for oneself, because his welfare is important in the scale of one's personal values......
The practical implementation of friendship, affection and love consists of incorporating the welfare (the *rational* welfare) of the person involved into one's own heirarchy of values, then acting accordingly.
But this is a reward which men have to earn by means of their virtues and which one cannot grant to mere acquaintances or strangers.
What, then, should one properly grant to strangers? The generalized respect and good will which one should grant to a human being in the name of the potential value he represents-until and unless he forfeits it."

Nathaniel Branden, after breaking away from Rand, wrote of her lack of knowledge/awareness of the field of psychology and how it impacted her thoughts.
I am inclined to agree with him.

You (and Rand) seem to agree that a human's lack of effort is enough to warrant a forfiet of your good will and respect. Psychological research on learned helplessness, motivation, and abuse
leads me to conclude otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Arora said:

"You (and Rand) seem to agree that a human's lack of effort is enough to warrant a forfiet of your good will and respect. Psychological research on learned helplessness, motivation, and abuse
leads me to conclude otherwise. "

Psychological research clearly implies that one can stop learned helplessness if she/he is willing to be a part of the solution. This includes the mentally ill people as well(via medications).

arora said...

Halivay that medications were a true panacea.

Anonymous said...

Arora,
you are digressing.

Halfnutcase said...

anon, the entire body of psychological research on the subject basicaly tells us that the person who can overcome learned helpessness on their own is very, very rare.

I doubt anyone of us discussing this on the thread could do it.

And I don't think that anyone of us discussing this thread would have done even one bit different than this man in whom chana mentions did. Not one of you. Sorry to burst that bubble but your an unwitting liar if you think you would do one bit differently.

THere is a reason why chazal teach us not to judge someone until you've been there.

Orthoprax said...

Arora,

"How do you know that Orthoprax?!"

Of course I don't _know_ that for a fact, but I'm not going to base my charity giving on crazy stories that are unlikely to correspond to reality.

Anonymous said...

Halfnutcase,
I will have you to know that quite a few people(myself included) tried to help this man to unlearn his helplessness. He DOES have an address and IS on welfare. He is NOT interested in changing anything. He enjoys his way of existing just fine.

Izgad said...

I would suggest that the position you are talking would be better classified within the model of the classical Victorian deserving poor versus the underserving poor.
Rand did not see any virture at all in helping out others who were in need, arguing that it created a world in which human beings required that there exist misery and want. Unless I am mistaken you still view charity as a virtue.

Chana said...

Arora,

Your main point seems to be to introduce the psychological aspect of this man's position, just as Halfnutcase introduced the man's emotional position/ claims we should empathize with him. Both of your points are nice from a distanced viewpoint, but I don't see where you're coming from in terms of a practical response. Practically speaking, do you or don't you give this man, whom you see every day, money? Or are you suggesting that I go over to him and strike up a conversation, explaining that there are various "places" he can go if he wants to start anew, and hand him a list of addresses? Or ask him to tell me his life-story? Or am I supposed to hire a qualified psychologist for him?

I want to know, what, practically, you would have me do. And if you say I ought to give this man lunch/ money, I want to understand how that logically follows from understanding that he MAY be psychologically/ emotionally unhappy.

Orthoprax,

I agree with you.

Last anonymous,

I had been unaware that anyone had attempted to intervene in this man's case. Are you a Stern student?

Izgad,

No, I am not following the model of classical Victorian differentiation between the deserving and the undeserving poor. I'm all for giving money to prostitutes, for instance, to help them start anew, because I understand that people generally do not CHOOSE to become prostitutes; they are trafficked, so poor that they sell their bodies, and so on. Victorian England despised such filth. The differentiation I am making when it comes to the deserving and the undeserving refers to their DESIRE to become productive members of society. Rand is completely for helping men who are trying to help themselves (see Dominique's conversation with the homeless man who sneaks onto her train who is trying to keep his white collar immaculate). It is a misunderstanding of Rand that leads to the idea that she is wholly cruel.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
I graduated from Stern 2 years ago.
Last anon.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
You are really underestimating the role mental illness plays in people who live on the street. The vast majority of people in the u.s. who are living on the street have some form of serious mental illness. These are people who, for all intents and purposes, cannot hold a job, and never will be able to.

Whether you give these people money or not, there is no way they are ever holding a job or getting their lives on track. Yes, there are exceptions, but these are truly just exceptions.

Halfnutcase said...

chana, I think in practice you give what will help. If you notice (somehow) that he needs something, and you can provide, then do so.

If his gloves get holes in them, then either give him money for new gloves, or buy the new gloves at salvation army for him, and give them to him. Either that or if your really really brave and daring, then take a needle and thread, and go sew up the holes in them.

There was a story about one girl who was working at a soup kitchen, and a man came around asking if somoene had a needle and thread and could sew. Noone had one on them, but she could sew and somoene else I think came up with some. He asked that some holes be stitched in his gloves I think (which is a big deal in places where it gets cold, you wouldn't believe just how important it is to keep gloves in good shape when you're out that much). So she sewed up the gloves, and gave them back to him.

Well to make a long story short there is now a volenteer position at that soup kitchen for someone(s) to come in a sew up holes in peoples coats and other garments that they bring for it. It helps them so much, especialy as they cannot afford new garments when their old ones break.

I don't think anyone is saying that you should give excess, but if you notice something that he really does need, or perhaps one day he has nothing in his diet coke cup, then perhaps you should give something.

Just use your sense of reason chana, We all know you have an excelent stash of marbles up there. Sometimes it's appropriate to give, and sometimes not, but it should be scary to you if you ever get to the point where you get offended by people asking or needing. Its ok to say, no I don't think I have money to spare for that, because thats the honest truth.

But I also think that spare cash should be avoided if possible when giving to homeless people. Giving the actual items they need keeps them from wasting it on alchohol or drugs (which some of them are addicted to). I know that when I'm at school and people ask me for a dollar, I ask them why, and when they say that they need to catch the bus I give them a bus ticket. This way they can only use that dollar for what I gave it for, plus I didn't have to spend the whole dollar to give it!

arora said...

"I want to know, what, practically, you would have me do. And if you say I ought to give this man lunch/ money, I want to understand how that logically follows from understanding that he MAY be psychologically/ emotionally unhappy."

Personally, I think you are under no obligation to give; there is no 'ought to' here. It's your choice.
I think many in the comfortable confines of intellectual elitism attempt to twist empathy into enabilism without a true understanding of the psychological/emotional limits others face.
Also, those on the exteme of the bell curve, who see magnificent output for every unit of effort expended and those who have intrinsic motivation to work, and derive tremendous satisfaction from seeing the results of their labor tend to put the values effort and productivity on a pedestal above all else.
Carrying your philosophy to it's logical conclusion, those who do make the personal choice to give to the 'non-productive' (supposedly nondeserving) members of society become cruel.
This is what I was respoding to. I disagree that yours is the true idealism (as far as this issue is concerened) and with my own idealism would passionately fight to prevent such a Randian utopia.

Mel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ezzie said...

Wow. I waited to comment again, and look what happened...

AnywayS... Chana, excellent answers overall. I'm with you and Orthoprax (IIRC) throughout.

My fave line: Practically speaking, do you or don't you give this man, whom you see every day, money? Or are you suggesting that I go over to him and strike up a conversation, explaining that there are various "places" he can go if he wants to start anew, and hand him a list of addresses? Or ask him to tell me his life-story? Or am I supposed to hire a qualified psychologist for him?

I want to know, what, practically, you would have me do. And if you say I ought to give this man lunch/ money, I want to understand how that logically follows from understanding that he MAY be psychologically/ emotionally unhappy.

Mel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara with NO H said...

I'm commenting late for a reason.

A little less than a week ago, a fellow J-Blogger asked me if I needed help in an impossible situation I'm in. I finally admitted to him I was in need,
after he asked me 500 times over the past couple weeks. He told me he wanted to help me. He asked me if it was OK to send out an email with my PayPal address and ask if anyone could help me. Of course at first thought, I burst into tears and thought of how embarrassing it would be. He assured me that we all have to ask sometimes. I finally agreed and he sent out the email. Swallowing one's pride to ask for help or even just to accept it is hard...harder than you can imagine. What was even harder was the fact that I got one reply. Out of the 100s of people that read that email, I heard from one. I'm not saying that I expected anything. I'm saying that if people opened their hearts to the idea that people really do need.

I'm sorry if I drifted off of your subject a little, and the reason I commented after everyone else, was because I seriously don't want to give any kind of "asking" impression. I'm just saying that you never know a persons situation. Even the government that gives disability to the mentally ill or those not able to work, does not give enough for a person to survive.

You don't have to give to everyone who asks, or anyone for that matter...but you really should know how hard it is for a person to ask to begin with.

esther said...

Chana, I understand where you're coming from - why should we bother to support him when he could easily go to a homeless shelter or something? However, I don't think it's that simple, as halfnutcase said. At the same time, there's no need to attack people for giving him food. That's their choice (and their caf money). We're always hearing about how homeless shelters in the city are overflowing and have their hands full. Why not just help him out? I don't think it's such a big deal - he doesn't actually come over to anyone and ask them for anything, he just sits near Duane Reade and people can choose whether or not to stop by. Even if he is a "scammer," that's his problem. If you're so worried about it, give once and be done. No one is asking you to do anything!