Advice Column, Parenting

The Beggar Dilemma

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It’s a lovely day and you’re cruising along with your windows open, enjoying the light summer breeze, when you spot a beggar at the traffic light you’re coming up to. What do you do? Quickly roll your window up? Put on your sunglasses? Pretend to be in-depth in conversation on your phone? Most of us have absolutely no idea how to deal with this daily dilemma and even less of an idea what to teach our kids.

My philosophy is this… Every single human being is of value, just by the fact that they are alive. They should be acknowledged as such and treated with respect. I have spent enough time coaching, and before that doing trauma counseling (and working at the time with a number of homeless people at our drop-in centre), to know that behind every face is an incredible story. And once you know enough stories, you are unlikely to judge.

Does this mean that I give every beggar some spare change? Absolutely not. There is nothing empowering about a hand-out and we already have an over-developed culture of entitlement in this country. With regards to beggars (and car guards for that matter) what I teach my kids is this:

Let your money go where your energy flows. Spend your money on things and people that lift your spirit. If someone begging at the traffic lights brings a smile to my face by a funny sign that they’ve really thought about, or by entertaining people while they wait for the lights to change, or is friendly and chatty without giving me the “woe is me” long version, then I’m happy to pop them some change. I’m not even adverse to handing out a R100 note if I feel inspired by someone who is really making an effort to help themselves and is positive and friendly and not pandering to my guilt.

Teach your kids never to spend their money to alleviate guilt. It’s a bottomless pit. Deal with your guilt and let it go, or use this energy to do something that is actually useful… travel equipped with some useful information (local homeless shelters, who to contact to sell the Homeless Talk, contact details for the Twilight Children) or start a soup kitchen, grow a pavement vegetable garden, teach someone a marketable skill, support local trade.

Whatever you do, leave your window down, smile, and acknowledge the human being that stands before you, a real person with a story that you will never truly be able to fathom. In this way you teach your children love over fear, respect over hostility, and kindness over hatred. And be grateful to that person for giving you the opportunity to give your kids these lifelong gifts!

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