Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Ethical Thought

On my way back to the dorm, I gave a few dollars to a woman who, with assumed or genuine tears in her eyes, told me she needed to catch a train to wherever it was she said she lived. In retrospect, her routine was probably too slick to have merited alms. I can't regret giving her the money——at the very least there was nothing wrong with it——but it's this way with me almost every time I give someone money: I'm full of fear that I've been had.

Back in grade school I once read a story that made a lasting impression on me. It was about a family who, like most of the characters in that sort of reading textbook, suffered from some sort of social exclusion or domestic tragedy; I forget the specifics. But what I remember is a line spoken by the father of that family to his daughter, something along the lines of "Sometimes being taken advantage of is the tax you have to pay on your faith in human nature." I thought it was very profound.

Now I don't have much faith in human nature, and as a rule I assume most panhandlers are frauds, but I'm a sucker for sob stories, and beggars have an easy time getting money before me, however much I look down at myself for giving it. I write this not to "sound a trumpet before me," but because I think this story hints at a more important meaning:

We must really live in a fallen world, if even charity can make us feel guilty.

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