How to Give to Panhandlers Without Worry
It has happened to almost all of us. A bedraggled looking stranger holds their hand out to us or we see someone holding a sign asking for money along the side of the road and we wonder…if I give my money to them, will they use it to buy alcohol or drugs?
Some sidestep this worry by giving food or low-value gift cards to fast food restaurants. Others don’t give at all, paralyzed by the fear that they could be contributing to someone’s demise by fueling their addiction or poor lifestyle choices.
But the question in my mind really comes down to this: why do we give? Is it for them? Or is it for us?
Before you answer obviously, it’s for them, think again.
I once saw a woman begging in a grocery store parking lot. I felt moved to help her, but I was late and in a hurry, so I did not. All these years later I remember her and how I saw her need and did nothing to help her. It may be low-level guilt, but it remains an unpleasant feeling none the less. It’s pretty safe to say that I am not alone in these types of feelings; when we believe we should do something yet do nothing, the resulting emotional discomfort (a form of cognitive dissonance) takes its toll.
And it’s not just to avoid guilty feelings. We also experience joy from helping others. One of the few things that happiness experts agree will re-set your “happiness point” higher is being of service to our fellow man. There is also a universal law at work here; Deepak Chopra calls it the Law of Giving, or the Law of Giving and Receiving. The idea is that by joyfully giving we open ourselves up to receiving. If we fail to give, then we close ourselves off from receiving.
So yes, we do it for them…but we also do it for us.
When I recognized this, I stopped worrying about if this person was going to take my money and use it to buy drugs or alcohol or if it was a “scammer.” If someone is on the street asking for help, they have a need even if it is an emotional or spiritual need. If they take my five bucks and buy a bottle, maybe they will meet the person who helps them turn their life around on the way out of the store. If it’s someone who has no physical need but is just trying to get money for nothing, I will still receive the benefit of my own giving and I am confident that they will learn one way or another the lesson that makes them stop being deceitful.
I stopped making it my job to judge them and their situation, and started using these events as an opportunity to bless others and feed the cycle of giving and receiving.
I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said give to anyone who asks of you (Matthew 5:42). He didn’t say give them money and he didn’t even say give them what they are asking for. Maybe what this person really needs the most is an encouraging word, the number to a local battered women’s shelter or the spare umbrella in your trunk. Sometimes I give money. Sometimes I give food. Other times I give a blessing. It just depends on what I feel led to do.
What I no longer do is judge, worry, or walk away doing nothing when I feel that I should have. It’s very liberating to give in this way. Try it – it may be for you.