Should you give money to beggars?

When giving money to beggars, you are entering into an interpersonal transaction with a stranger. But should you?

When giving money to beggars, you are entering into an interpersonal transaction with a stranger. As in all transactions, both parties receive something. For the donor, they receive the internal gratitude for their good deed and the thanks of the beggar in most cases. The beggar receives the money, but also more. Humanity. Both are just as valuable.

The old beggar by Louis Dewis
Louis Dewis, “The Old Beggar”, Bordeaux, France, 1916

What if you do not give money, can you still receive and give? The universal standard would be the gift of subsistence. Food, water, shelter, heat and entertainment. These are tangible assets transacted both visually and physically. Moreover, then there is the less quantifiable, the smile, the connection of spirit, the distraction from the norm. The moment as you acknowledge another human being. For that moment, that brief instance, you are giving a person companionship. You share in the situation the unfortunate recipient has found themselves in.

Of course, the above rhetoric is devoid of the negative. It is a salute to the humanity of giving. What it does not address is the cruelty of giving. The act of giving enabling the recipients suffering to continue by not dealing with the cause of their unfortunate situation. So back to the question dear reader. You have to weigh up the transient benefit against the lasting cruelty of your gift.

Is it that simple, some would say yes. Others would point to other factors. The usual go to factor is the weather. The person on the street feels the cold or extreme heat as much as you do. Moreover, a donation in kind will give them a much needed respite from the elemental forces; all be it temporary.

What about the individuals’ circumstances. Up to now you might have been reading this article thinking about the mass ranks of beggars. However, each one has their personal backstory.

The drug addict that begs for money to buy drugs, the homeless person that just wants money for food or shelter. The person at the train station who is scamming people for small denominations to make a phone call. The historical professional beggar as detailed in the literary sense, this perception lives on in the modern psyche. How about the religious beggar?

Different countries have different names and differing social attitudes to beggars. Monks effectively beg for food from the general populous in some countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. The social attitude towards this form of begging is one of a harmonious relationship where giving to the extension of the spiritual deity or moral code, the monk, items such as food brings a sense of duty and spiritual reward.

Is beggar the right terminology, does this negative connotation truly apply to all those seeking donations? We use the term chugger for that person in the street being paid to solicit funds for charities. Are these now increasingly corporately managed entities beggars?

Can the charitable act of donating be compared to giving to a beggar? Is the difference, that a charity is an organisation asking for funds to deliver services, and a beggar an individual asking for money to survive, or profit?

Should you give money to beggars? The answer undoubtedly depends on so many factors, that to booleanise it down to yes or no is pointless.