The Arrogance Of Humanism


When a beggar asks for change, do you give it or walk away?
I was asked this question once and realised that sadly, I was of the latter people who would keep their heads down and hands in their pockets. Like the issue discussed yesterday where people in London tend not to interact with each other due to a sense of fear and mistrust, this response to a beggar is also due to mistrust. I was taught that most beggars on the street are fake because either they simply beg as it is all they have been doing their whole lives, they are scam artists or will only end up spending the money on booze.

I have seen examples of this such as the man at Heathrow airport who would go around asking for a pound as he did not have the change to pay for the car park. A few months later when I visited the airport, the same poor man was still stuck in the car park!

Another example is the woman on the overground train I sometimes take who would walk through the carriage leaving tissue packets and a note explaining her situation. This approach intrigued me and actually made me wonder if this woman was genuinely in need. However, a few weeks later I realised it had become her job and routine.

It is quite a bewildering thing to deal with. While a part of you wants to help, you are reminded of the warnings you have been given. When a person is sitting on the street in the cold, a solution would be to buy them a hot drink or even a blanket to keep them warm. That is what I think most people feel like doing but there is always something that restricts us. Either it is a false sense of urgency to reach our warm safe homes or our fear of stepping out of our comfort zones.

Then you hear of stories like a Muslim man giving his shoes to a poor person while on the train and walking home barefoot but these acts are so few that they make the news. If humans behaved kindly as a whole, then acts of charity would not be newsworthy, they would merely be a normal occurrence.

If we as humans find it difficult to interact with people on a small scale through a smile or a greeting, how on earth can we find the courage to help those who we have been taught to look down upon?

A Worried Student

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23 thoughts on “The Arrogance Of Humanism

  1. It all does start with the issue of recognizing people as human. But there is also a lot of teaching these days of our not being worth life. If you get a chance take a look at my article A Nod and a Smile. It sort of goes along with this and addresses starting as you said with a greeting. I really enjoy seeing your thoughts grown on this issue. Impressed!

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  2. I think it’s important to remember that the homeless are people too. I think I read somewhere that there are more empty houses here in the U.S. than there are homeless people… that just seems horrible to me.

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  3. OK…. so much of this attitude has to do with the 20-21st century ‘sense of entitlement’ – not of the poor – but of the rich, and the feeling that if we ‘give; to others we are losing something ourselves. This mythical social philosophy is why conservative governments are beginning to become so mainstream in modern society (much to my disgust) – they are about individualism and looking after one self – if you are poor and begging it is your own fault!

    Of course this is rubbish, and hopefully – as history proves – this type of two tiered society does not survive – but unfortunately many suffer in the meantime!

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  4. It is a matter of priorities. People do not all have the same, nor is it easy to change ones priorities without some traumatic event upsetting the status-quo. Giving is a wonderful thing that should be taught to our children because there will naturally always be those people in whom the drive to get rich tramples all sense of goodwill and altruism. You know those people, without a care for others around them, who will take advantage of anyone. They come dressed in Armani and they come dressed in sweat pants and giving out packets of tissue but you are on the right track in learning how to recognize those people from the ones who are truly in need or who truly want to help.

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  5. I think we should remember that people who beg can be important to us, and meeting with them – an honour. Really, I can recall such persons, telling me by their lifestyle: not only money counts, look I live different sort of life – and I am more colourfull then crowds of manufacture and office workers who pass by. An artist, a wanderer, a stranger – bringing richness to the grey, boring post – kommunist Warsaw.

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    • That is a really important point you make. Normally people tend to feel that they are only doing those poor people a favour but as you say, we can actually learn from them.
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

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  6. There are so many sad homeless people out there, I know some may be alcoholics or drug addicts that is a sad problem…whatever, we honestly never know from one day to the next what is in our destiny..These pour souls I don’t believe thought they would ever be on the streets. ..have a little heart and give…if its there job..oh well so whats a couple of dollars or quarters…we need to help one another especially in this day and age of people not caring to much but for themselves..
    amen..re-blog.

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  7. It’s a really delicate balance. I DO give (when I have the change) to one guy who has only one leg. I think he lives at the Salvation Army or something, but he’s also a serious smoker, and I think he panhandles for that. I could be wrong, and just in case I am, I give him a few dollars.

    On the other hand, there are KIDS…. in their twenties or so, smashed out of their trees on drugs, looking for money (no doubt to buy more of what’s killing them) and those are the ones I pass by. And there are those who seem to make a career out of thinking others owe them a living (like a few relatives of mine). You don’t want to be nasty, and you feel guilty for saying NO. But those are the ones we NEED to say NO to. If someone is in a situation, that’s one thing. Sometimes, though, people CREATE the situations they’re in. You want to help because you’d want someone to help you if the situation was reversed. It’s a tightrope walk! I don’t mind helping but I’d also like to hold on to a few of my hard earned dollars, and the panhandlers were out before the leaves this year!

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    • You have described the dilemma perfectly. We do not want to create a culture of dependency as that would mean the poor people would not actively do things to improve their lives while we also want to give to those who are truly in need. Aaah!

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