Helping by Hurting
The 7-11 store in our neighborhood dispenses cigarettes, sodas, chips, hot dogs, coffee, cookies, and most every other snack food that can be fashioned out of partially hydrogenated oil and other trans-fats. This convenience outlet offers most of the noxious poisons people ought to ingest if they wish to slowly kill themselves. Though the products on sale at this emporium (and thousands of others like it in my city) are obviously harmful, there’s always a steady stream of patrons leaving the place with a Big Gulp and a bag of Doritos in hand.
A recurring cast of vagrants occupies the sidewalk outside the 7-11, asking for “spare change.” By now, even the most compassionate Hollywood liberal has come to understand that honoring a bum’s request for money is a terrible idea. Positively reinforcing a negative behavior that none of us wishes to condone (i.e., helping someone stay homeless by giving them just enough funds to remain stuck begging on the sidewalk) is perversely cruel in its own unintentional way. So, instead, putatively big-hearted good Samaritans purchase an extra pack of cigarettes or package of Twinkies for the beggars.
It dawned on us that doing this was just as bad as giving the bums cash. Indeed, this may be the most eloquent illustration we’ve come across of why saying “yes” to a beggar is, in fact, an act of weakness and unintended malice. By “helping” the vagrant get what he wants — and thereby obviating your own guilt at owning a Hummer and a 68″ television set — you’re actually hurting another human being. Not only are you encouraging the homeless fellow to stay planted exactly where he is, you’re feeding him the stuff most likely to bring on cancer and heart disease.
Rather than actually doing something — volunteering at a soup kitchen; teaching illiterates to read; providing meaningful education and employment — those who dispense handouts outside the 7-11 are unwittingly stepping on the throats of those they wish to aid. Unknowingly, the well-meaning helpers are being kind to be cruel.