UC 2 2009 Berkeley
One night, a small man dressed in ill-fitting, ragged clothes asked if I could spare some change. I
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Uc2 2009


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Uc2 2009

  1. 1. UC 2 2009 Berkeley One night, a small man dressed in ill-fitting, ragged clothes asked if I could spare some change. I gave the man twenty dollars. As he thanked me, his solemn face glowed and his mouth spread into a smile exposing his crooked, yellow teeth. While I initially believed that this ten-second transaction had the more significant influence on the object of my generosity, I now consider those moments to have had a more substantial impact on me. Not long after my experience, one of my teachers remarked that treating an impoverished person to a meal rather than giving him money, which he might spend irresponsibly, is a kinder act. That forced me to rethink my altruistic actions, which I now worried may have contributed to his decline. I felt my actions were nominal, motivated by self-satisfaction rather than for the sake of really helping. It takes much more courage to break bread with a homeless person than it does to give him a few dollars and walk away. Was I taking the easy way out? Then I got another perspective on the issue: to treat a panhandler to a meal could also be seen as patronizing. In doing so, I would essentially be telling that man that I knew what was better for him than he did. I would be deeming myself superior. I certainly did not want that. By giving him the money, I gave him the choice to decide what was best for him. If it was a vice he chose, who was I to judge how he found relief from his harsh reality? The dilemma, then, is in the perspective: On one hand, by sharing a meal with him, I recognize him as a human; on the other hand, by giving him money, he is empowered to make his own decisions. I must content myself by believing both of my choices are superior to handing him a bag of fast food and thereby depriving him of both his visibility and his self-determination There is another dimension to this event in regards to its influence on my thinking. A key factor in my act of generosity was that I was alone. I have passed other homeless people in the company of my family or friends, and I did not offer my money then. I realize that I was afraid of what others would say were I to perform such a charitable act in their presence. What I would perceive as kindness and benevolence, I feared others would see as idiocy. And I was not courageous enough to stand alone, to ask them what made them so cold as to ignore a man obviously in dire need. I would be showing a compassionate, sensitive side typically not associated with males. When I realized how much I had been influenced by social expectation, I found it hard to accept, as I pride myself on my efforts in following my conscience and resisting conformity. In the future, I will face dilemmas similar to this one. I may not immediately know which is the best action to take. Reality is rarely black and white, after all. Whatever I do though, will be a result of my contemplation and my personal moral compass, and I am confident that I have the ability to make decisions that will benefit both others and myself.