Sadly the world is full of people less unfortunate than myself and it’s very hard for me to not feel bad for them, especially when they are homeless and have to worry about their next meal. I’ve always disliked our money-centric society (why money = success?), so in my perfect (imaginary) world, no one would have to worry about their survival and suffer. I try to charity and volunteer for group events where we help the less unfortunate, and I used to donate blood for many years until I had to stop temporarily to take care of my health (it’s not too serious, don’t worry, but it’s a story for another time 🙂 ).
There’s just one problem: I live in a city where table-to-table money seekers are very pravalent. And I mean very.
Whenever you sit down to eat outside, as long as it’s not an air-conditioned restaurant, someone will definitely approach every table in the place including yours, whether it’s a salesman selling [insert cheap item here], donation seekers from [insert charity / cause here], beggars (usually fake) or even conmen.
The salesmen are easy to say no to. As for donations, I usually decline because I prefer to give directly to [insert registered charity here]. The conmen are usually easy to say no to, too, and this just happened to my dad a few days ago:
Guy: “WOW! [Insert some over-the-top exclamation here] You have a very lucky face! In fact, you’re so lucky that you’ll win an event next month! Oh, wait, not one, but THREE!! And—”
Dad: “No.” [Goes off]
Yep. You can’t fool my dad. 😀
But what about the beggars (real or not) begging for money? And in a city with widespread fake beggars like the one I’m in?
Many people choose to give without worrying if it’s a fake beggar or not, but then there’s this problem, and then there’s this problem[❣️!]. Others (like this really similar post) choose not to give cash to the individual beggars, but like me, prefer to give directly to the registered charity, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling bad when I say no to the beggars, fake or not.
There’s one exception; there is a type of fake beggar scam that I never feel bad for – a Buddhist monk begging for money. Why? Because Buddhist monks are NOT supposed to touch money!
The Vinaya rules disallow monks from touching or handling money. As such, in Buddhist countries monks must have a Kappiya [attendant] to handle money for them.
~From BuddhaNet: The Monks’ Rules: FAQ
So, whenever you see one going around with their alms bowls, remember they’re only supposed to accept food. My mum once told me her story (or someone else’s?) putting food in the alms bowl of a fake begging monk and he gave a “WTF?” look. 😀
An Encounter with a (Most Likely) Fake Beggar
The day after my dad encountered the “very lucky face” conman, I encountered a fake beggar. I was eating lunch alone at my usual coffee shop when some guy approached me. He was a foreigner, but from which country I couldn’t tell (I’m sadly bad with that).
Normally, like most people conditioned to fake beggar encounters, I’d stick to my phone and shook my head. But today something made me look up at this guy. Because I usually have issues making eye contact, I focused on his chin as he talked and as my mind processed the details.
Guy: “Hello, I’m from [some country] and [blah blah blah] and I need money.”
Mind: “Why the heck did he come to straight to my table and ignore the others? It was crowded and if you really want sympathy, you’d choose a more crowded table and—”
Guy: “See, I have this really bad wound.” [Shows bandaged hand, lifts bandage on forearm to show a wound smaller than my fist]
Mind: [A volunteer first-aider] “Oh, he has a wound? Well, it didn’t look wet and infected, seems dry and clean. As long as he keeps it that clean, it’s going to be all right, like my right knee a couple of weeks ago–”
Guy: [Shows a handwritten list of medicine with weight in grams] “But I need money for medicine for my wound.”
Mind: “RED ALERT RED ALERT RED ALERT SEE LIST OF RED FLAGS”
Yep, it took 5 seconds for my red alert to kick in. By then I had already noticed a whole list of red flags:
- The bandage was wrapped well around his hand (palm and wrist), but conveniently drapped loosely over the “terrible” wound to show people. Isn’t the purpose of the bandage is to, well, cover the wound?
- I didn’t get a good look at the wound (how could I in 0.5 seconds?), but I did notice the bandage over it was super dry and clean, so either it was dry and healing (like my knee from 2 weeks ago), or he painted it on. Even if it has been a while since my volunteer-first-aider training, I’d still recognise signs of an infected wound, and a clean wound doesn’t really need such complicated medicine.
- I didn’t get good look at the paper either, but the list of ‘medicine’ (like, “blah blah blah 65g, some other blah 25g”) was written on what looked like a page from a hotel notepad about the size of amy hand. Well, anyone could just get a list of medicine off the internet.
- Something about the guy seems insincere.
But, well, there’s still a small chance of him actually needing help (like 0.01%?), so I gave an answer that may lead him to seek help if he really needs it.
Me: “If you need help, just go to your embassy. They’re more than willing to help you there.”
Guy: “No, but I need money–”
Me: “Just go to your embassy, I can’t help you.”
[Repeat this a few times]
Guy: [Mumbles something with a “WTF what a waste of time” look and goes off]
To further confirm my suspicion, he went around the coffee shop and left towards the next coffee shop, I got a feeling of frustration from him rather than distress, so I guessed he wasn’t really looking for help. Just to be safe though, I kept a wary eye out as I walked home an hour later in case he stalked me out of revenge or something, but luckily he was nowhere to be seen.
And it seemed to be a fake beggar day that day – just before I headed home, another guy came with an amputated leg and a pair of crutches, asking for money! He moved really quickly and left in 0.1 seconds just as my hand went up in a little wave – he must be a beggar veteran.
Still, even if I did determine those guys as fake beggars, it didn’t make me feel any better. Thoughts like “What if I was wrong? What if he really needs help?!” kept running through my mind. 😦
How Not to Feel Bad for Beggars?
The sad thing is; this happens all the time, whether at coffee shops, outdoor markets or other places. There’s always the heart-tugging sight of a disabled person / mother and baby / etc covered in dirt and ragged clothing. How does one have empathy and compassion and yet emerge unscathed through a busy street with a beggar waiting at every 10 steps?!
After much self-reflection (and online reading 😛 ), I finally came to a conclusion!
Giving money to (real or fake) beggars have consequences:
- Real beggars? We don’t know if they use the money for food or drugs (like this piece of news in London) or other stuff.
- Fake beggars? Even if they aren’t part of a bigger, sinister group, you might be surprised at how much they actually earn, like this article.
So rather than giving money to any beggars holding their hands out, if they really need it we could give them [insert necessity item here]. I once read an article (somehow I can’t find it now, I read too many!) where the author entered a McDonald’s and and a dishevelled man was sitting indoors to escape the winter cold but had nothing on this table; he asked for some food, and the author bought him the biggest breakfast set. It gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling even if I wasn’t the one who gave. 🙂
Or, we could donate to a reputable registered charity that helps homeless people, which will do a greater good than just one or two individuals. As the proverb goes; give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime!
Hopefully the next time I encounter a beggar, I won’t feel too bad about it. 🙂
A Short Self-Compassionate Letter
You have a kind heart! But do you know you have a tendency to feel kind to others but not to yourself? It’s as important to be kind and compassionate to yourself, to treat yourself as nice as you do others.
Do you remember what the trainer said during the volunteer-first-aider training you had then? She said that if an emergency situation arises (such as a bus accident) and you want to help, make sure to ascertain your own safety first before going in to help – your own safety is most important. Sure, people tend to treat those who take risks to enter a burning building to save people as heroes, but what good will you do if your own safety is compromised?
The same thing goes for your emotional health – if it’s is at its best, you can help more than if it is at its worst.
So, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself as well as you do others, because you are as important as everyone else. 🙂