The time I gave money to a poor man, and the time I didn’t

How do we decide when to give away money? (ben_osteen/Flickr, Creative Commons)

I was in Boston on Saturday for one of the many women’s marches that took place internationally. Over 100,000 people were in attendance, protesting income inequality, Trump’s proposed human rights violations, the repealing of Obamacare, the Electoral College, racism and sexism in all their iterations, for women’s equality and control over their own bodies, to protect Planned Parenthood, for basic human decency. And yet, when I was accosted for money by someone before walking into Dunkin Donuts, I walked by without acknowledging him. Why? We talk so big, we gather so well, but when it comes to it, are we unable to act? Specifically, am I unwilling to physically manifest change? Giving that man a dollar or two would have changed nothing. But how much did I change by waving a sign and shouting into the void?

These thoughts transport me to when I was in Boston a little over two years ago. I’m not sure if I was more generous then, or more naïve. I’m not sure if anything I do has an effect beyond what I did. But all of it is always on my mind.

At South Station, where I was waiting for the bus that would take me back to school, a man approached me and asked for money, enough for a bus ticket to get home. I smiled because I didn’t know how to react.

“You’re laughing, but I need this.” His eyes stayed with me.

I had watched him ask another man for help. The other man said he had no money. The other man was without favors, didn’t like hands out or handouts. Maybe in me this poor fellow saw some youth: youthful hope, youthful stupidity, innocence.

“Sure, how much? I can make change.”

“Just twenty or thirty dollars. Please, I’d really appreciate it. I could mail you the money back, seriously.”

“I don’t have that kind of money.” I did, but not for fat, white strangers with desperate, lying eyes.

“Please, anything could help.”

“Okay, just let me make change.” But what is five dollars instead of 10? I gave him a 10-dollar bill.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Not a problem.”

The other man, who was next to me, sat in a long black overcoat and watched the interaction from behind his glasses. He had taken the time to look up from some type of textbook. I knew he was sizing up the poor man with his Denver Broncos cap and layers of sweatshirts. When the beggar walked away the other man stared at me for a few seconds. He wore an obvious look of disgust.

Something in me knew the poor man was lying – he didn’t need any money. I think my admiration of him came from his courage in asking the strangers he met if he could have their money. That takes a certain bravery and ability to swallow one’s pride that I will never know. I will never see him again. He took advantage of me. Pretending like money doesn’t matter is a nice feeling, though. I can make that back in half an hour at the restaurant, I thought. But doing what? I probably should not have been generous. I probably got played.

Ten dollars is meaningless.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.