To give or not to give, that is the question - GulfToday

To give or not to give, that is the question

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.


Photo has been used for illustrative purpose.

Do you know what a panhandler is? I honestly did not know until I looked it up. I looked it up after reading an article about a psychological survey carried out in which panhandlers got twice as much money if they were dressed ‘appropriately’.

A panhandler is someone who goes about asking people for money. You tend not to get them in the UAE but in many countries, including those that are developed, like the United Kingdom and America, you do get what are commonly known as the homeless. You get them on the streets, on the underground, called a metro system in some parts of the world and you even get them knocking on your car windows at traffic lights asking for money.

I am sure that, like many, you have either handed them some cash or just rolled up your windows and hoped the lights would quickly turn green. Let’s face it, beggars do make you feel uncomfortable. But why is that? To me, the word, ‘panhandler’ is just a fancy name for someone who is homeless and a beggar.

Now a recent survey has shown that if a panhandler is wearing a suit or something decent he is more likely to get twice the money than if he were simply wearing his ragged clothes. I was flabbergasted to learn this. Firstly because I didn’t know what a panhandler was, and had to look it up, and secondly because people seem to give more to those who are ‘well dressed’.

The latter finding defies logic. What difference does it make how a panhandler is dressed? Whether he is dressed in perhaps an old, dirty suit or a pair of old dirty jeans and T-shirt, they are still begging for money. It seems that people who give double to those in a suit or a ‘proper outfit’ seem to identify most with them and are, therefore, more generous towards them. They assume that, because the person is better dressed than his jeans and T-shirt wearing counterpart, he is more likely to be polite, compassionate and hard-working. Maybe they assume that he was kicked out of his last job wearing his suit? To me, that does not make sense because their assumption might be wrong.

In fact, I don’t mind saying this, but about a year ago I did come across someone well dressed in a food court insinuating that he needed to eat but had no money. People did give him money and some even bought him food.

To be fair, one doesn’t really know how a person ended up begging on the streets. Anything could have happened that made him end up in the state he is. He could have lost his job and then lost his home because he was unable to pay his debts. Maybe he or she was kicked out by their spouse or in-laws and their own family refused to take them back. Maybe they are foreigners who are stuck in a country because their employer ran off without paying his employees’ salaries. The salary could be in the thousands and maybe the employer is giving them false hope that he will return in a couple of weeks to pay off his dues. Maybe that employer is lying and the poor employee is now stuck in a cycle he can’t break because he is owed months’ worth of salaries.

Yes begging is wrong and those who give to beggars might be doing the wrong thing as well because, in some countries panhandling is against the law. I don’t know if it’s against the law in the UK and America because there are thousands upon thousands of homeless people living on the streets. The police just move them on and they end up setting up ‘home’ on another street corner. The UK underground had many when I lived there and some poor fellow would always come by asking for ‘20p for a cup of coffee’. I sometimes gave so as not to incur their wrath and sometimes I’d try to move away from the platform until they moved on to someone else. But I never gave more to someone in a dirty old jacket than to someone in a pair of dirty jeans. Both were the same to me with the same smell of not having bathed in weeks.

Now giving charity is the right thing to do. But rather than just giving money to someone begging, perhaps it’s better to get them to do some little work for you like clearing your leaves or taking out your rubbish.

It’s a hard line to draw actually. To give or not to give, that is the question.

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