What To Do… or Not To Do.

A tricky one for you, this week,

One of my better qualities, I think, is my ability to see opposing sides of an argument. I may feel pretty strongly about something but that rarely seems to stop me from seeing how the other side feels about it.

This has its downside too. It means I can often be wishy-washy about things. I can dither over reaching conclusions and, sometimes, in matters where I patently should have stood strong from minute one, I have wasted time vacillating.

But enough about me… what do you think about me?

No, No…

I’ve been mulling over a question this week, it’s a fair example of how I tend to go at things from different angles. I’ll tell you about it and if you want to suggest to me what I should do, that would be nice too…

…although I may not do it.

Right. There’s this Lady, you see, and she sits on the main street of our town every day and she plays her wooden flute. She’s not from this country originally but that’s neither here nor there – I only mention it to colour the picture in a little bit. Six days a week, she sits on the ground from 9.30am to 6.00pm and she toots her flute.  She doesn’t do much harm. Perhaps she blocks the footpath a bit, perhaps her crutch sticks out a bit further than it needs to – a ploy to get attention, maybe – nothing really troublesome.

The main issue one might have with this Lady is that she can’t actually play the flute she toots. She just pipes out a series of tuneless random notes, all day, every day.

And here’s the thing, here’s my quandary; I never give her any money.

Am I right or am I wrong?

That, as the man said, is the question…

The case for giving the Lady a few pence is fairly straightforward. She has some need, lest she would not be there. I can afford to give her a few pence. It wouldn’t kill me. My moral code tells me I should be mindful of those less well-off than myself. Therefore I should give.

The case against is perhaps less clear but it is the one which currently sways me. I have it on good authority that the Lady is quite severely arthritic. That crutch is not just for ‘show’, when she finally wends her way home at six in the evening, she hobbles on her way. This Lady was there in the coldest days of this harsh season. In temperature of –8 degrees, she was on the pavement, tooting her flute, seeking alms.

That last bit, that’s the crux of why I don’t give her any of my money. I believe that she is encouraged to sit there every day, by person or persons, who see her getting money from people. I believe her suffering of the endless days on the pavement and the bitter, bitter, cold is a direct result of her receiving money and, if there was no money, she would not be sent to sit there.

So, that’s my case, if I give her money, her painful days will continue. If I don’t, and everybody else doesn’t too, perhaps those who tell her to sit there will stop doing so.

But that’s all a bit easy, isn’t it? I’ve made up a little moral reason for me not to give.  But what if I am wrong? What if the Lady is sitting there of her own accord, freezing, because there is nothing else for her, no other way to get money of any kind. What if I am walking past her, my pockets jingling, as she starves?

And I’m putting myself across as some kind of bloody saint here – pondering the fate of the Lady we all ignore. Trust me, I am no bloody saint. If I am to be honest, this Lady, with her incessant tuneless tooting, annoys me.

“She sits there for ten hours every day,” I say to myself, “why doesn’t she teach herself a tune to pass then time… and then have something coherent to play.”

Yeah, and that crutch of hers sticks out so far and makes me walk around it… and she never asks me for money, she only asks the Old Folks, the ‘Easy Marks’ and… and… and…

Yes. I’ve got high motives, I can reel them off when I need to… but are they real?

What is the truth of my not giving any money to the Lady in the street?

If you know, let me know.


Jim Murdoch said...

I think you need to depersonalise this a little. Let’s say tomorrow you pause and hand this woman a euro would that salve your conscience? Would you feel the need to give her a euro on Tuesday? Maybe not. What about next Monday? Would that be the time to give her another euro? Or perhaps you could make it a monthly donation, the first Monday of every month. And what about in a year’s time, would your donation increase to take account of the rate of inflation? How much can you afford to give per month? Would the money not perhaps be better going to an organisation that attends to the needs of all the homeless people rather than just one who may well not manage her funds properly? And if you give your money to homeless people that means you’re not supporting all the other charities out there. I know you’re in Ireland but just as a point of reference I can find 89 charities in the UK that deal with domestic animals alone, 43 that deal with wildlife, 40 benevolent funds, 24 community care organisations, 30 environmental charities, 29 medical charities, 23 children’s charities, 5 charities that look after old people, 2 that care for the disabled, 3 that attend to the homeless and 1 that deals with ex-servicemen. And you and I both know that this is nowhere near a complete list. You can’t give to everyone but it’s important that you give to someone. So decide what you can afford, give it and be done with it.

Anonymous said...

Why not give her a hot tea and and a sandwich ? It's up to her if she goes there or not, your morals don't really influence her coming there everyday,(maybe she is confused and this is her routine as some mentally ill people sometimes have a strict routine) in my view. I couldn't walk by

Ruth said...

Have you tried talking to her?
Perhaps entering into conversation with her might resolve some of your quandary.
And give her some money if you want to. Or don't - I doubt if she'll hold it against you and I also doubt it will make any difference as to whether she sits out there all day every day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr A,

Long time reader, first time commenter. :-)

There really isn't a right or wrong thing to do in these situations. In my opinion there are pros & cons to both sides of the argument. The fact you've taken the trouble to write about this lady shows you're in a genuine quandary.

I would carry on as you are. Throwing this lady a few pennies will only make you one of her regular 'marks'. Your argument there could be others encouraging, or forcing, this lady to take to the streets in her condition is not an uncommon occurrence. If this isn't the case here, tossing her a few coins every now and then won't make a huge difference to her life.

If you wish to help this lady, and people like her, I would suggest a donation to a charity that can provide genuine long-term help.

I agree with a previous anonymous post; if you want to do something specifically for this lady, maybe something to eat or a hot drink once in a while would be appreciated. I've done this in the past myself.

A cheery greeting as you pass by goes a long way too.


hope said...

Ruth beat me to it...take a moment to talk to her. You're a good listener...most writers are as we have this odd need to understand the "why" to stories. So, what is the "why?" to her story?

Once you know that, perhaps it will solve whether she is truly in need, bored or a wily con artist. And there are ways other than just handing over money to aid someone. Example: tell her you've paid for her to have breakfast/lunch or/dinner at a certain place where she will get just that and not the money.

Only HER story can guide you. Let us know what happens!

Bob Hanson said...

I know a small, shameful part of me makes these decisions based less on what's the right thing to do than on how I'll be perceived. I want gratitude. I want to make it about me. This isn't a good state of mind to make any worthwhile ethical decision but there you go. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.

That said, I think I made a right decision the other evening when I saw a guy in his 30s begging from people leaving my local Sainsbury's. Knowing I'd have to pass him and not wanting to give cash, I bought a big old bar of Galaxy instead and gave him it. He seemed genuinely chuffed to have someone offer him a small luxury rather than a necessity.

And yes, I got to feel good about myself for 30 seconds before feeling like a dick for realising I was making it about me.

I'd honestly prefer to operate out of a real, functional, Victorian sense of duty.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jim: I think I'm happy not giving her money. I feel she is forced to be there and that worries me. I was also trying to turn a cold eye on myself and my hi-falutin' concerns whilst, all the time, my sub-concious plays its mealy-mouthed little games.

Anon: I liked that you couldn't walk by. I will get her a tea in your honour.

Ruth: There would be a language thing, I feel. Also I'm fearful of opening a Pandora's Box as I have to pass this way at least four times every day.

Hi Glen, you're welcome! Yes, I will give a little extra to the people who do good at this level. It still doesn't quite answer the direct one-on-one plea for help though. Good advice though.

Hope: I'll think about this. As I was saying above, I have to pass this way many times every day. I don't mind talking to anyone, as you know ( :) ) but the regularity of this contact concerns me a bit. Food for thought.

Bob: That's a good story and contains nothing for you to feel bad about. I remember when I worked in Camden , I got a result with a radio play of mine once and went and bought a guy on the street a humongous McDonalds... probably killed the poor bugger. :)

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks again for your valued thoughts on this. I can't say much without sounding self-aggrandising but I took some of what you said on board...

Thanks again. :)

WiseMóna said...


Maybe offer her some (easy) sheet music and hope for the best. Who knows, she might grasp it and play a few of your favourite tunes.


Laura said...

If you are thinking about it enough to find out or notice that much about her and then to write about it, you must be feeling uncomfortable with not giving her any money.

I won't tell you what to do. But, a big part of my religion and feeling about life, is that we have freedom to choose. Maybe she makes enough sitting there to make it worth her while. If not, by now she could have found something else to do with her time, or a warmer place to sit, etc.

I very seldom give street people money. But that is because I know someone who did reach her hand out and was attacked for her trouble. So, I prefer to keep a healthy distance.

Although, a few weeks ago I did give a twoonie to a street guy who tried to tell me a joke which I couldn't hear well over the traffic. But, I appreciated the effort (and he did have an Irish accent - were you in disguise playing some trick on me?). I didn't see him again but I'm not in town in the evening very often.

Laura said...

Or, you could give her a coupon for flute/ music lessons. She might make better money if she got better.