Giving change – is it selfish?

April 17, 2010 at 8:22 pm Leave a comment

I understand how little separates me from those who are homeless and poor. Just shy of four years ago I was very close to ending up there myself, no joke. I’d recently lost my father a continent away, and was pushed away emotionally by the rest of my family for daring to cross the gender divide. I’d decided to transition from female to male only shortly before my father became fatally ill and it was all too much for them to digest. We became estranged, I left my job, had the obligatory mental meltdown. I spent a month barely able to get out of bed or brush my teeth.

I got out that funk by the sheer grace of a higher power. Or something. Honestly, I don’t know how. Some people helped me along the way, stood by me as I wobbled onward, and with time I began to eat again. Had I fallen in with a self-destructive crowd, or had I had the energy to dive into the world of illicit drugs, maybe I would not have made it. Lucky for me I avoided people – good and bad – and I was too busy swallowing legal drugs to pay much heed to the illegal kind. Point is, change a detail here or there and I am no different from that broken man nursing his bottle of rum in a paper bag on your corner.

You would think that I would care more, then, about giving change to those who beg as I walk home from work. I resist. Maybe because I feel like I don’t know whether the money I give will go to a good cause or if I’m simply feeding an addiction. Or maybe, and I think this is more accurate, I don’t want to be callous about it, don’t want to make it easy on myself. Maybe giving a loonie here and there is just a way to look the other way on the larger issue, a way of pretending that you’re doing something for another human being when actually you’re doing the bare minimum so that you don’t have to do more. Then again, maybe doing the bare minimum is better than doing nothing at all. No easy answers. Not an easy fix. But giving, I think, can become its own addiction.

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