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Giving whenever asked
Aug 30, 2004, 1:15a

A couple of weeks ago, Becca and I were coming back from Berkeley on the BART. After a few stops, a man got on and announced to our car that he didn't have enough money for the fare to Ashby, since he bought too many donuts. He held up a plastic bag filled with his donuts as he said this. He was wondering if someone could spare $2.10. Almost everyone on the car ignored him, some giggled (how could he spend all his money on donuts!), and he was able to get nearly a dollar total from a couple people that he asked directly.

People felt awkward about the whole thing, and the man transferred at the next station. I learned from another man sitting behind me who talked to someone on the other train, that the man made the same announcement on the train he transferred to.

I guess the question is this: why do strangers feel awkward when someone asks them for help? Even that word, "stranger", seems to imply that the people you don't know are somehow weird, strange, or untouchable. Perhaps it's not so much the asking, but the way of asking. If I was in the same situation, I would probably just ask a few people individually rather than make an announcement to the whole car, and I would probably be able to get the money I needed.

So then really the question must be this: when someone we don't know asks for help, why are we so afraid of giving it? If they're so desperate that they're asking strangers, they can probably really use it.

What if you were to give help every single time you were asked? What if you gave every beggar a quarter? It would probably not put too much of a hole in your pocket.

It seems that the bigger concern is not this cost but the thought of what the beggar might do with the money. He may spend it on drink or drugs, and we certainly don't want to support that if we can help it. But he may also really need the money, say for food or transportation. Let's say that 25% of all beggars actually need the money for what they said they need it for. Is giving someone the $25 that they really need worth the cost of supporting someone else's drug addiction to the tune of $75? I'm not even sure if the "25%" number is even accurate, but I think it's a reasonable question.

And I think I'm inclined to say that yes, a 75% strike-out average is worth a 25% home-run average.

Maybe I should try saying "Yes" when asked by a stranger for help next time, and measure my strike-out to home-run ratio.

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