The impertinent beggar
I sat in a circle with 7 women and another man. The 3 oldest women, each of them aged between 40 and 50 years, set fire to my ears. As I write these lines, I am returning to the fire spot, to see what is left standing of my impression of human kindness. The question is: Can you reasonably expect thankfulness by giving alms to a beggar?
I say no. What do I mean by reasonably? By that I mean thinking about conventions, in contrast to thinking inside conventions; thinking with logic, instead of culturally and politically conditioned thinking; thinking: why can I be happy, while others can't, and not: Gosh, life is a miracle.
It is not.
The 3 women, all of them mothers with jobs, would be a sensation if delivered to prying, enlightened eyes via webcam. I think they would, because they're so humorous in an apparently good-natured way. Chatter and laughs? Lots. Sneers and smirks? Lots. From recipes to politics, there is nothing they would not talk about. They're a bunch of seasoned, smart, sensible, grinding girls, taking it easy. What alarms me is that below the shield of apparent interest in the world, below the comic, superficial judgements passed on each and everyone, there lurks a horrible mistake. Here is the story of the beggar, as told by the most talkative of the three women:
I passed a beggar on the street. He asked me for some money, saying that he is hungry. I gave him two oranges. The beggar, unthankful and derisive, took the oranges, but would have preferred the money. So I told him (mockingly) that he should give the oranges back, because he obvisouly wasn't as hungry as he had claimed.
The other 2 women joined her by relating their own experiences with beggars. "How dare they be so unthankful?", said one. "There you go, giving your old, worn clothes to charity, thinking that it's right to do good, and all they do is to tear the stuff out of your hands. They're rude," said the other.
I know what they mean. I gave to beggars, thinking that somehow they ought to appreciate it.
Hell, no! They don't because there is no reason. How dare you expect a beggar to be thankful for giving him alms? How dare you expect anybody to accept alms willingly? How dare you think that someone has the capacity to be thankful when you highlight his need? Do you really think it's good to engage somebody's need to wrench from him any sort of appreciation? Need provides no basis for expectations.
Somebody in need is unable to be thankful, because what you give is not treat nor reward; because your gesture of pity is merely a stab into an unreflective form of self-worth. Reminding somebody of his plight is not help at all. It only stoops him further into knowing that he is needy, and unable to return value for money.
They'll take what you give, not because they volunteer to deal with you, but only because they're in need of whatever. They won't grant you the illusion that you're merciful. You're not. You will only meet indifference when faking generosity. If you give in order to receive thankfulness, choose people who can earn to be your trading counterpart.