Judgment or Compassion?

There are a lot of homeless people living in  Seattle, especially in the Green Belt, a forested area, part of which is located near my home. There are times when I strike up a conversation with them or at least smile as we pass by each other on the sidewalk.

I really notice the difference between my behavior in those situations and when I am approached by a panhandler in a parking lot or near the entrance to a grocery store. At those times, I immediately get annoyed and a stream of judgments start within me. I may even walk a different direction to avoid them. Among the judgments my mind comes up with are: “They probably don’t need the money, it’s a scam.” “They just make a living this way. I’m not going to enable them.” They can go to a food bank or a mission to eat.” “They will just use the money I give them to buy alcohol.”

While I sometimes will give panhandlers money, and am even more likely to give them food, generally speaking I say “No” and walk on without even a smile. I’m bothered by how cold and judgmental I get in this situation.  My heart is closed and I lack compassion.

I have never talked to Sreejit, my son, about panhandlers so I don’t know his attitude. But I know Chaitanya, my daughter, willingly gives them money when she has it. When I commented that they could be making their living that way, she said she had no problem with it, that it was their choice.

Al, my ex-husband, has worked on behalf of the homeless for many decades. He also gives to panhandlers willingly. Once I complained to him about seeing someone ask for money and then go to the DVD machine and rent a DVD. That had really set off my judgments. His response was a very quiet, “A man once told me that he watches DVDs to help himself deal with his sense of loneliness and his recovery from drug addiction.”  Al’s words certainly gave me food for thought. (When I called him a few minutes ago to check out my memory of this incident, Al told me the man who had said these words to him is graduating from community college next week!)

Something else happened recently that softened my heart on this subject a little. A friend emailed me an interesting story a friend of hers had sent. The story was about a 99-year-old homeless man in Bulgaria. He spends all day, every day, begging for money. He is not using the money for himself though; he lives on his $100 a month pension. He has given ALL of the money he has received over the years to orphanages that are unable to pay their bills. It is estimated that he has donated 40,000 euros (54,584.00 U.S. dollars) to this cause. To read the whole story and see more pictures, click here.

This is an issue that has plagued me for many years. I don’t know that I will ever give money to people who I think are scamming me, but I hope I more often remember that I don’t know their stories and have not lived in their shoes.  It is my desire to become ever more open-hearted and stop my litany of negative judgments.

How do you react to panhandlers?


Written for Traces of the Soul Prompt #5

46 thoughts on “Judgment or Compassion?

    1. I recognize that dilemma! I often decide when I’m in the store and if I chose to give I get some food item and give it to me on the way out!

      Thanks for reading my post and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a thoughtful post, Karuna! Coming from a small town when I went to university in the city I was bombarded by so many people asking so nicely for money…I never had enough and I would feel so guilty. I wondered how city people could just walk by.Then I moved into the city and in Toronto is was worse…so if I have money to spare (I usually do not carry cash); certain spots at red lights near the bridge I try to remember to have change (in Canada $1 & $2 is change) and quarters.I pass by the same group of people at metro stations daily. Sometimes I feel bad I can’t give but I still try to smile or say hello or sorry not today.


      1. You are welcome! I write about this more on my other space where I sometimes get on my soapbox {grins}. In my trip to San Francisco, I was shocked seeing such a rich city and so many homeless people.


      2. Of course in Canada we have homeless people but it is not as staggering as in the majour US cities…population of course. LA struck me as well as such a clash of classes.


  2. I give them money when I can. I have had my moments too where I thought, this is just a scam and I had one lady give me a hard time because I just gave her a dollar. She was obviously drunk in her late 60’s and she was one that I had thought twice about giving money to. But, she was who she was and she was always in the same spot everyday, I could tell when she really needed a drink. Giving her a dollar to buy a beer was probably the best thing I could do for her. Going into DT’s would probably have killed her. It wasn’t going to change anything for the better for her by not giving her the dollar.

    I know of people that panhandle for a living. There are many who relish the freedom of not going to a 9-5 job and would rather do that than fight to get on State Aid. As long as they are not hurting anyone or stealing. Is it any different going to McDonald’s and buying a burger? When you spend that money you are paying the salaries of the people that work there and making a profit for the company. These people choose to make their living in this manner. Just like a cashier at McDonald’s chooses to make money at that job.

    There is so much poverty and different reasons people are living in poverty. Not everyone who panhandles does so because they are trying to rip someone off. They do it to make a living in an economy where jobs are at a premium and if you are a certain age, or disabled, mentally ill or other types of problems the chances of you getting employed is pretty much a big fat zero.


  3. In our little town there’s an old beggar panhandler. I know where she sleeps. One day I cooked patties and went to give her this patties. But she didn’t take that. She said: No, I have all what I need. I wanted to help her, but she turned down. It was queerly. I often see her in the town. She has some specific system and course, I think.

    Answering a question, sometimes I give them money. Better to try to help than to be indifferent. But sometimes I’m in a stupor and pass by, I do not know why.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for commenting. Both your story and your answer to the panhandling question were interesting and helpful. It would be interesting to know if the beggar turns down all help or if she only takes what she needs in the moment.


    2. She may have a psychiatric disorder that makes her compulsive about what she eats and paranoid. They seem to have the hardest time with accepting anything from people. It was kind of you to try and help her.


      1. I had that thought too. Many of the homeless here won’t go to shelters even when they are offered. And they won’t eat indoors because they don’t want to feel trapped by the enclosure. Often they are war vets with PTSD.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you! I tried to help a little.
        I also think she may have a psychiatric disorder. Sometimes she swears and cries on the streets. But was amazingly she was calm and discreet when she replied me.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think our job is to put in the effort and let go of the results. I’m glad you offered to help. To me that is what is most important.


  4. Your post is interesting. It shows a view of ourselves and the world in conflict with our beliefs and how we deal with them.
    Is our view of world reality? Is anyone’s view of world real? I think not. I do not mean to say, as some might, that nothing is real but that our views are always limited by our position or view point.
    Physically we understand this but our view is also limited by our HAB(Habits, Attitudes, Beliefs). Our mind always tries to make our world look like what we already believe it to be.
    If we want to change our world then all we have to do is change our mind.
    Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much. Smile!


      1. Thank you for that. FYI if you are looking for a source or credit for that Acronym it was thought to me by the founder of the Pacific Institute, Lou Tice. Who was a great teacher on how our minds work, and what we have to do to accomplish change, first in ourselves and then hopefully in the world around us.
        I have only been following your blog for a little while however find it refreshing.

        Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much. Smile!


      2. Thanks for the information. I have heard of him.

        And I love having the word refreshing used to describe my blog! I’m glad you are following it.


  5. A homeless man once told me that acknowledge him as human being was more important to him than the money. I think we must learn to be more secure in ourselves that we dare to smile or to say no. In any case, thanks for this post and sharing Willie’s triumph!


  6. Since you have been to India, you must be familiar with the number of homeless people that follow you on train stations, pavements and even when you stop your car at a traffic signal. I have similar feelings about lending them money, as in everybody here tells me that the money you give them does not reach their pockets, but are instead taken by handlers who treat this as a business. That may be true, but whenever I did not give them any money, like you I felt uneasy inside. So now I don’t bother about the so called handlers and try and give them whatever I can at that time, especially if I can buy them food.
    I will soon share the story of a poor young girl who wanted a poster of her hero. The jist of it is when I gave her extra money, she only took the cost of the poster. Sometimes us privileged people learn humility from the less fortunate. 🙂


    1. Even though I still am working on this issue. I definitely had breakthroughs in India. At firstI reacted with the same patterned behavior that I do here. Then I realized that it is very different in India. In India if the poor don’t have money, they very likely don’t eat. Either that or they fall victim to the type of handlers you mention here.

      In Seattle there are many missions where people can get daily meals, and there are food stamps and other forms of subsidy. That is not true in India.

      Also in India, begging may be part of spiritual practice for the sadhus (monks). In those cases,all they have is what they are given.

      I have loved the varied comments people have made to this post. I find myself having new thoughts and continuing to shift.

      I look forward to reading your story.


      1. The unfortunate thing about the free meals in the U.S. is that there is getting to be so many people needing them that they can’t keep up. There are people, children many times that cannot get even one full meal a day. As far as food stamps, in my work with DocUp I have discovered that if you are single and/or have children over the age of 12 your food stamps are cut to almost nothing. There was a man living on $638.00 a month SS and could only get $17.00 in food stamps. He was using food banks and the free meals to eat. His rent and utilities were 3/4 of what he was getting in SS. There are many people like that. It is going to get worse before it gets better. Communities banding together and creating community gardens that grow vegetables, fruits, raise chickens for eggs is a better solution. One had goats for milk and another had a fishery. It is possible to do so many things to help the situation and it can help the community become stronger.


      2. Food banks in Seattle have had trouble keeping up with the need too. I don’t know if that is true of the missions or not.

        I knew federal and state services have been drastically taken away or reduced over the last decade, but didn’t realize availability of food stamps had gotten THAT bad. That is no help at all.

        I love the idea of the community gardens. In my neighborhood I know of two families who are sharing a garden but most people are doing them on their own.

        I know our closest food bank accepts garden vegetables and I have given them some in the past. Thanks for bringing that back into my consciousness. I will take them more this year.

        The Beacon Hill Food Forest is near my home too. I plan on doing a post about that amazing project before long.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Karuna, getting caught up on backlog. Sorry for the delay in commenting on this post. Like you, I am a giving person, but often fail to give to people soliciting on the street, because I make a judgment that the money will be used for the wrong thing. However, I readily give to a person who approaches me with a visible disability, amputee, wheelchair, blind, etc. Putting this down on paper makes me uncomfortable. So, I need to work on feeling comfortable when making these choice to give or deny. Thank you for this post.


    1. Writing this post and reading all the responses has been so powerful for me too. This week, on three different days I decided to try out @Traces of the Soul’s technique of having dollars already placed in her pocket and to give without question. On two days I did that and it felt so good come from compassion rather than running the situation through my mind and ending up with judgments. On the third day I avoided a man because he was obviously drinking. My mind came up with all sorts of judgments instantaneously. What I noticed is that I felt uncomfortable having gone there in my mind. I think using her way of doing it is a very interesting and life changing experiment. The mind is important, discrimination is important, not enabling is important, but I suspect that compassion may, in most cases, be more important than all of it.


  8. When I have money on me, I give it. I volunteered for an organization called Back on My Feet here in Philadelphia which combines running and helping those experiencing homelessness. My brother who is an Iraq war vet with PTSD also has been homeless for years at a time. I did wonder about the circumstances leading up to those decisions so sometimes when I am in the city I take people to lunch who are panhandling and listen to them. I wanted to understand it and have found that the ones who do take me up on my offer only want someone to listen and I am enriched for it. It took a lot of work to get over the fear for me first, though. I’ve offered to help more than that but each person has their own journey and has just thanked me for the offer.


    1. What a rich experience. Thanks so much for sharing it.

      I had really big experience in this area last week. I’m thinking of writing a followup post about it.


  9. I remember Amma addressing this issue. I remember the message was to buy them food or necessities rather than giving them money. So, you are in good company in that regard.

    Liked by 1 person

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