I had a recent ethical and moral conundrum the other day, when I was walking downtown as I haven't done in a very long time. I had the sun on my face, an ocean breeze in my hair, moving among the masses of humanity as they hunt and gather their lunches from their Corporate Tribal Dens on Water Street, and from just the next corner down, music could be heard. Guitar and bongos, primarily, but there were some wind instruments as well. I dropped some coins in their cases, and carried on my merry.
Near the corner of Water and George, just outside an art gallery, there were two people sitting on blankets, carving out of ivory and quartz. I stopped for a little while, fascinated by the sheer beauty of watching shapes appear from blocks of material, and even though they didn't have a jar or a basket out, I dropped a few more coins in the small pile on the edge of their blanket.
Then I came across a person sitting with a sign and a dog just outside my bank, doing nothing to attract attention, but begging for money all the same. I skirted around her, went into my bank, and skirted around her on the way out. She didn't look up, didn't ask if I could spare anything, just sat there bleakly and petted her dog.
Now... I don't consider myself a stingy person by any means: I tip my cabdrivers at least 20% (higher if they've treated me like a valued customer). I leave tips for sandwich slaves at Subway, and when tips are not accepted at businesses, I still make sure to thank my cashier/CSR and wish them a good day. But to myself, I just couldn't justify giving money to someone who was sitting uselessly at a corner, begging for money.
I understand that poverty exists... hell, I'm below the poverty line in my province and have been for years. However, I can still live a fairly comfortable life with the income I have. I know what hunger is -- I've been it before. But this is why things like soup kitchens and food banks are in place. This is why there are social assistance programs and shelters for those who have nowhere else to go. They are not perfect by any means, but honestly, they're not that hard to find.
Am I wrong to want to reward productivity while shying away from giving my money to someone who either can't or won't sign up for assistance programs? To someone who won't at least try to earn it by offering music or art or even something as simple as washing car windows as other beggars in my city do? Am I wrong to prefer my money go to buskers who earn it and not those who merely sit by and hope like hell someone donates to their cause?
I don't know... I don't feel guilty about not giving even a few coins to someone who's merely begging, but I wonder if I should.