Alms giving

So last night, I gave 8 dollars to a man on the train. Is that a lot or a little? Based on the ordering of my words, maybe it’s a lot. But based on the regular expenditures of my life, maybe it’s only a little. How do you judge it?

I had been out with friends at a bar, had a few drinks, watched a basketball game, bid farewell, and boarded a train back home. It wasn’t too late, just about 10:30pm, and the train was barely lined with folks. Just about anyone could grab a seat if they wanted one, though the seats are grimy enough to make that decision a difficult one at best.

I decided to stand. I wasn’t going to be on the train that long anyway, just about 15 minutes.

Seven minutes or so into the ride, a man goes by, asking for money. He approaches several young men with English accents. They’re pretty cheerful, and even seem a bit tipsy and they josh around with the man, before deciding that, between the three of them, they can spare a dollar. For some reason this bothers me.

The man graciously accepts the dollar and continues on. When he reaches my area, he doesn’t turn to me, instead turning to the couple across from me. They decline to provide money and he carries on down the aisles, left to right and back again. For some reason, I find myself wishing he’d asked me.

Not four minutes later, another man comes down the aisles, asking for money. He asks the same people. The same English men. Now, they seem less jovial and their collective dollar effort has been reduced to some excuses that they don’t carry any dollar bills on them.

This man now reaches my area and instead of turning to the couple, he turns to me. Even before he’s asking, I’m reaching for my wallet. I think I’d made my mind up well beforehand. There are several factors that affected me, though this is the first time I’ve confronted any of them through words.

1. I try to give money whenever possible. There are many things in play here. If the asker smells like cigarettes or alcohol, I’m much less likely to give at all. But for someone who is asking respectfully and earnestly, hey, sometimes a person just needs a hand.

2. I dislike when people, who clearly have money, refuse to offer anything. It irks me when people are listening to their iPhones but can’t spare a dollar.

3. I’d just spent about 7 dollars per beer at a bar. Couldn’t I spare some money?

So I gave him some money and he thanked me profusely and I was beginning to feel awkward about it when he decided the more thanks he gave, the less time he had for asking others.

There you have it. That’s the story, but I’ve been a little bothered by it ever since. I like to think that I was guided by principles to give that second man money but why didn’t I give the first man money? Both of them were nice and weren’t the disorderly and rowdy panhandlers you can see on public transportation.

Would it have been better to split the $8 between them? Should I have given more money? Once I’ve established the principle that I think it’s worthy to give them money, how do I know how much money to give? I wish I knew the answer because the result is me acting inconsistently.

As much as I like to think about this stuff, it gives me a headache. I think more so than if I had never given any money at all. It feels like after I hand them my money, I’ve given them some part of me, I’ve invested in them a little, and I’d like to know what happens. Are they truly earnest, or am I just the greatest dupe?

Well, I’ll keep thinking about this and if I ever figure out what to do about it, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, how does this relate to writing? People don’t always act the same, or as they idealize themselves. And when they don’t, I think they struggle with themselves. Identity or whatever. What-kind-of-person-am-I type inner dialogues.

How much do people adhere to principles? Do people still refer to how they act as guiding principles? Not something I’ve really talked about with lots of people. Anyway, as a writer, I believe this is an important concept to maintain. Characters can be inconsistent, but there has to be a reason, and I think people know when they’ve acted differently. They’ll reflect. And they’ll maybe change after that.

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