I’m sure most of you know exactly what I’m talking about in my title. We’ve all heard it. Most commonly when trying to pick up a few groceries on the way home from work. I’ve had the experience numerous times.
You’re approached by someone who looks down on their luck – possibly homeless. They tell you (most convincingly) that they’ve run out of gas and can’t afford to put more in their tank – and could you find it in your heart to give them 5 bucks for a gallon or two? I’ve heard variations on this story – once I was told that he’d just finished up a trip from <insert some random state many miles away>, traveling here for his wife’s father’s funeral. Now, I am not (contrary to popular belief) without a heart. However, it is not my natural instinct to believe these stories or to think for one second that any money I fork over won’t immediately be used to purchase one of two things – neither of which is gasoline – both of which probably taste just like it. Call me a cynic. Call me mean. I just refuse to give these folks any money. I almost always offer to take them at their word…and pop over to a close by gas-station and purchase them a gallon or two. Occasionally I even offer a full tank. I’ve never been taken up on my offer. I take that back…once I had someone come to me on my way into a grocery store saying he was hungry and could I give him some money for food – instead, I told him I’d buy him some from inside if he’d just wait 5 minutes. Though I didn’t expect him to be, he was patiently sitting on the curb when I returned with a rotisserie chicken and some potato salad. It felt great to help someone in a real way. Much better than if I’d just forked over money. And it’s the one time I actually (then) believed the story of “I’m hungry”.
You may be wondering why the nostalgic look back over my times with people begging. Well, I’ll tell you. The recent flap over the AIG bailout money and subsequent AIG bonuses got me thinking. When faced (on an individual level) with someone squandering finances and getting themselves into a bad situation, most of us respond in one of three ways:
1. Give money with no strings – fully expecting it will be wasted.
2. Give nothing – knowing that if you did it would be wasted.
3. Do something real. Spend some time on it, rather than just money.
I’m not just talking about beggars here. Sometimes this is a family member, behind on their bills. Or a friend you know needs some groceries. How about the family your work supports at Christmas time? There are lots of people in need – but we rarely just throw money at people expecting that they will magically figure out how to deal with it responsibly. It’s a pretty safe bet that someone who has demonstrated fiscal irresponsibility in the past is going to squander any influx of money unless there are some rules attached to it. So what do we do? We pay the bill rather than just give cash. We go purchase groceries and bring them over. We do a giving tree with specific items the family needs – rather than just write them a check and hope the parents use it on their kids. On a personal level, we all show great common sense with these issues. So why doesn’t congress get it?
I don’t understand why people are so upset at AIG. If you give a beggar $5 for “gas” and then watch as he makes a beeline for the liquor store, are you going to go yell at him for it and demand that he give you back your money? Congress gave 173 billion dollars to a company that had demonstrated a complete inability to manage it’s finances. They gave that money with virtually ZERO strings attached. What exactly did they think was going to happen? The bailout was rushed thru in an effort to calm the American public. Congress threw money at a problem – our money – rather than take the time to actually understand what they were passing. Why? Because money is easier…much easier to spend than time. Yes, we all wish major corporations could show a little responsibility – but for Congress to hope that they will, when demonstrating the opposite has led to them begging at the capitol steps is just foolishness. On a huge scale, Congress gave a drunk beggar five dollars for gas. So why are we berating the bum for spending it on booze?