December 29, 2023 2:46 PM ET
He waited a few seconds for a response from the woman clutching her tote bag and cell phone, but when she studiously avoided eye contact, he moved on. “I’m hungry”
It was unsettling to hear such a simple plea and see everyone ignore it, even myself. I had 20 bottles in my bag, but I didn’t need them. I didn’t need it for the day I was in New York or for grander plans.
So why didn’t I give it to him?
Was I afraid, as people often do, that my money would go in the “wrong direction” – on drugs or alcohol?
This is a self-justifying attitude that Pope Francis characterized in a 2017 interview: “If I give him money, he will spend it on a glass of wine.”
not me. Even if it were true (which it isn’t), I know that you can’t cure someone’s virtual addiction by withholding help. And since I already use alcohol, cannabis, and sleeping pills to soften my warm, well-fed life, I don’t criticize the spending habits of those less fortunate. I also agree with the Pope. “If a glass of wine is the only happiness in your life, so be it.”
So… why didn’t I give?
Because they give in to the conventional wisdom that money should be given with care and that there is a right and wrong way to donate. Right: Check out charity research platforms GiveWell or CharityNavigator, then set up automatic monthly payments. Mistake: Handing cash to a stranger on a subway platform.
I’ll donate that $20 later. I promised myself, To a reputable organization that feeds the hungry. Anyway, my $20 will help more people that way.
This is true in the sense of “give a man a fish, or teach a man how to fish.” If the organization is doing its job – and yes, you should check – then it will provide more meals than I can with my $20, and even better. will help the city’s homeless people become self-sufficient.
But I’m still ashamed of myself for squelching my human compassion and hoping for the train to arrive. I don’t want to be the guy standing there trying to figure out how much of my boyfriend’s $20 could go into a nonprofit’s budget rather than end up in the hands of a starving person. .
“There are many ways to justify one’s actions when one does not give,” the Pope said. True, it involves deferring generosity until a later, more prudent time.
The Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, told CNN last year that “we have to think carefully about why donations have been delayed, and we need great people on our team.” “The hard part” of donating money is “finding a way to do it in a leveraged way,” he said. Don’t rush anything, Mr. Bezos!
But compared to some proponents of “long-termism,” an extreme version of “leverage” philanthropy that prioritizes saving humanity over saving actual living humans, he’s as usual. He’s a softie. For example, look at Elon Musk spending billions of dollars to colonize Mars so humans can become an interplanetary race. Or, as venture capitalist Marc Andreessen argues, “Advancing technology is one of the most beneficial things we can do.”
If you teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime. Investing in artificial intelligence will increase our chances of developing protein-rich fish alternatives for future generations to eat on Mars.
Perhaps what they need is more time on the subway or on the streets. A recent study found that the more time wealthy people spend around poor people, the more they donate. And in the nonprofit world, it’s an axiom that people who volunteer are much more likely to donate money than those who don’t. If giving increases when there is more to do, it’s no wonder that donations have also declined as volunteering has declined since the pandemic.
Does human contact make humans feel more responsible for each other?
The real reason I pretended to ignore people in need might be because I was desperate. do not have How can I see him as someone I am responsible for?
“I’m hungry,” he said. I looked away. I went home and set up a recurring donation to World Central Kitchen. On Election Day, I voted, as I always do, for a party that seeks to give more, not less, to those in need.
It’s all correct, smart, and “utilized.”
But next year, I also want to be the person who looks up at that moment on the subway and says: I can help. “