Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Over on Scott Adams's blog, there's a story about giving money to someone in need.  Or who might just be a scammer.  Sadly, it's often hard to tell.  And also sadly, the more people tend to get scammed (or think that they were), the less likely they are to give to people who really need it.

Got me thinking about my own "policies" when people ask me for money on the street.

As a rule, I'll only give whatever is in my pocket.  I won't take out my wallet for anyone.  I might trust you enough to give you a buck, but I'll still distrust you enough not to be flashing around a couple twenties and some credit cards.

I never give so much that it would matter to me whether you're lying or telling the truth.  I mean, ok, obviously, I'd prefer not to be taken.  But I'm never going to give you an amount of money that would make me scream, cry, and tear out my hair if I later find out I was had. 

So, yeah, I give sometimes and I decline to give sometimes. 

I've never regretted giving.

I've once regretted the decision not to give.

Philadelphia.  1991.  I lived in an apartment in Center City (a coupla blocks from the Liberty Bell).  Rainstorm.  Dusk.  Walking home from work.  About a block and half from my door, I came across a panhandler.  Standing in a doorway, under an awning half-protecting her from the rain.  Wet.  Shivering.  Dirty.  Holding out a cup with change in it, wordlessly asking the passers-by to add to it.  It's getting late and there are few people still on the streets.  Obviously, she is there because she has no place else to go.  Without breaking stride, I reach into my pocket and give her whatever change I have.  She thanks me profusely, saying that nobody else would stop.

To this day, I regret not giving her my umbrella.

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