Why I Don't Give to Beggars
In school they teach you to be generous to other people. Why? I can see being kind to friends and family, but why go out of your way for strangers? Why feel compelled to waste your efforts and savings on people when you do not know that they would do the same for you?
Back when I was rich, I used to go to charity functions at hotels like the Waldorf. I'd hang out at the Meals on Wheels tasting at Rockefeller Center and go to galas. Every year I went to an event nicknamed The Cancer Dance.
A lot of people in my family had cancer. It bothered me that the name, The Cancer Dance, mocked itself. I know that it was a good cause and that people were contributing money by attending. There was gambling and tax deductions. Most of the women were there to wear their new gowns and show off their jewelry. I later met semi-famous women (I won't tell who) who started up their own charities mostly to promote themselves. I suspected that some of the divorced ones were living off their charities.
When I was in jail, I met the head of a collection agency for the police. He told me that the police allowed him to keep 80 percent of his collections. He ended up in jail for extending this to 90 percent.
There are charities like the Salvation Army that supposedly do a good job. That doesn't mean I'd do anything for them. It's not my ambition to be other people's definitions of good. It's ironic that about ten years ago, I modeled for Salvation Army's brochure. I played a drug addict. I got a couple of hundred dollars for the job.
Business friends whom I have known gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity while cheating on their wives and ignoring their own children. It is easier to write a check than to spend time helping your children with their homework. I remember a mousey rich friend of mine who was the head of a large company balling out a huge file boy for being slow in getting him coffee. The rich guy was protected by his position. I wanted to see the file boy punch him in the face.
When I lost my business, I thought of the charities to which I had given thousands of dollars. I knew that if I had asked for some charity back, they would have laughed in my face.
If you waste your charity on strangers, how will you have the extra energy to be good to your friends who deserve kindness or charity? Charity is personal, not public. It is dedication to an extended, not necessarily related family. It is cheap to give strangers a few bucks. It is harder to nurse a real friend through a difficult situation. I have always been a helpful friend to my friends. I have been there for them when they needed to discuss something.
Back when I was a businessman, I once gave two sparring partners at Gleason's Gym messenger jobs in my insurance company when I had no need for messengers. It took more ingenuity than writing out a check to people I will never meet. I interacted with them every day. We discussed boxing. And I enjoyed it.
Giving to a friend is bonding a relationship. There is follow-up, not just give and run. It is not tossing money down the sewer. I don't give money to beggars on the corner. It's too easy. I want to say to them, "Hey, I'm broke, too. I was in jail. Why don't you give me a buck?" I am not Moses leading poor people out of the dessert. I am not giving them the Promised Land so that I can partake in the promise. I don't want to pat myself on the back for cheap gifts. I will give only where there is meaning, a relationship, a give-and-take.
In the days of the Obama Economy, the beggars are everywhere. There are hordes of them following me with their hands out across the concrete steppes of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Maybe I am being selfish by not giving to the grand and omnipresent poor. So I am selfish. Maybe my function in life is not to salve my conscience by donating money to the wind, but it is to write a good book or be there to have a good chat with my friends or family.
I was told to give. The people who are taking are the least likely to give back. The dictates of society are often useful, but not necessarily necessary. I will live my life as I choose, not as I am told.