My encounter with a panhandler had me thinking about a moral
issue. If you were in my situation, what would you do?
I make my living as a house painter. It is my only source of livelihood so I'm very
meticulous with my work and I take pride in my paint jobs. So one day when I
saw a middle-aged man waving at me to come down, while I was taking a
break from my paint job from the second storey of an apartment building, I
quickly went down to meet him on the street side. I was thinking that maybe he
was interested in a paint job and wanted some information, or worse, he might
some critique about my work.
"Hi! What do you want?" I asked him curiously.
"Can you spare me a dollar for a cup of coffee?" he answered.
"What's your name?" I asked him politely, trying to hide my annoyance that he
made me run downstairs just to panhandle.
"William," he replied.
"Come with me upstairs," I said.
He followed me as I walked back upstairs at the apartment. Upon reaching
exactly where I was when I saw on the street, I turned to him and said, "I'm sorry
William, but I neither have a dollar, nor a cup of coffee."
At that point, I resumed my work.
My decision not to give any money to the man was an easy one. Sociologist, I
have been told, think it is not a good idea to dole out money to panhandlers
because it would only encourage the panhandlers to become dependent on
hand-outs, instead of gaining some skills that would help them find gainful
employment. If one wants to help the needy, they say, it is better to donate to
But that night I found myself struggling with my conscience on a different issue.
The man was rude in tricking me to come down from the second storey
apartment, and I got even with him by making him climb the stairs with me
before telling him I neither have money, nor a cup of coffee. Was it right, or was
it wrong, for me to do that?