Are We Obligated To Help Others?

December 23, 1930

It is 9:30 on Wednesday night and I am stuffed. I have more than eaten my fill, taken a short nap and am mulling over whether I am going to walk to the gym now or in 15 minutes.

That is the definition of a pretty good life. Really, I am not hungry, got a roof over my head and feel good because I have a great job and am stimulated in a million different ways.

A few hours ago some people were asking me about what life was like in Los Angeles and whether it was that different from Texas. It was a mix of questions I have grown accustomed to. There was the “do you know any movie stars” inserted against the “you lived in a land of phonys and plastic.”

I have multiple answers to those questions, but we’ll talk about those in a bit.

Are We Obligated To Help Others?

Mark Schafer’s post When Twitter followers ask for money made me think about a bunch of different things.

I am a Peace Corps baby. Ma and Pa met in Ecuador way back in the ancient time known as the sixties, got married and bam I showed up a few years later just in time to watch the moon landing.

Really, in July of ’69 they stuck my in front of the television and I became part of the society that told the Russians we would win the space race and the Cold War.

I was born in Los Angeles and as you know lived there almost my entire life so my experience colors my perception of what L.A. is really like. And my experience includes growing up in a family where my parents opened our home to others.

There have been multiple times where they invited virtual strangers to live with us. Kids who fled bad situations in foreign lands and kids who came from broken homes lived with us.

Sometimes we would go with our synagogue to soup kitchens to help feed the hungry or to help clean the beaches. We gave back without thinking much about it because it was just part of life.

But we also had our moments of doubt about helping some people. We didn’t always give money to the people on the corners, outside of the restaurants or standing on the freeway off ramps because we weren’t sure about them.

Social Changes

During the past week or so I have been part of discussions in which age made me think about some things. They hadn’t ever heard of Soul Train, Solid Gold or Dance Fever. They couldn’t relate to stories about the drive in and had never been in station wagons in which you fought to sit in the far back because your seat faced the opposite direction.

And they weren’t old enough to remember a time when there weren’t as many people on the street.

That changed during the Reagan administration, don’t remember whether it was the first or second but funding changes forced some institutions to close and people who had lived in them ended on the streets.

That is not supposed to be the opening salvo in a political discussion, it is not where I am taking this but FWIW, I am an Independent so I am not an apologist for either party.

Instead this is my memory and a few thoughts associated with it.

And what I remember is a time where things changed and there were more bums on the street and more conversations about whether people would use the money to buy drugs/alcohol or other things that weren’t considered necessities.

Responsibility

When I talk to my children about our responsibility to give back it is in part based upon how I was raised and in part my experience and reaction.

It bothers me that so many people assume that so many people who fall upon hard times are there because they made bad choices and that personal responsibility means that we shouldn’t think about helping them.

The middle ground of being willing to lend a hand up and not a hand out seems to have fallen out of favor. The idea that someone who lost their home because they lost their job in a lay off and not because they bought too much home or drove too fancy a car doesn’t come into conversation.

I don’t think we should just throw money at problems/people but I can’t see a reason why if we can help we shouldn’t. We all walk the same streets and you never know what can happen.

It is time to end this post so I can get on the treadmill because life is good and that I guess is exactly why I need to remember to give something now as well as when things aren’t so good because you just never know.

  • http://adriennesmith.net/ Adrienne

    So I’m going to start my comment off Josh by asking you, was life different for you in Los Angeles then here in Texas? I don’t believe you got around to saying.

    Onto the topic of should we give, I remember living in a small town. It was safe to leave your doors unlocked and your kids could run all over the neighborhood without our parents worrying. The good days, I remember them.

    I never saw beggars until I moved into Houston. I never give them money sorry! Am I cruel? Not sure but I’ve watched a lot of them smoking their cigarettes or drinking the beer they do their best to keep hidden. There is one guy that always sits on the same corner no matter how many times he’s been arrested but he had a iPod going the other day. Am I going to give those people money to spend on that? No way my friend, not me.

    My heart goes out to anyone in that situation. I haven’t personally known anyone who lost everything but I have friends that know people that did and they didn’t overspend their money. They didn’t live in lavish homes and spend money irresponsibly. They possibly made some bad investments and ended up losing everything which didn’t help once they lost their jobs and couldn’t pay their mortgage. It can happen to anyone.

    It’s your money and you can chose it anyway you want. I prefer to give to organizations that help others and for research that hopefully will one day find cures. That’s how I chose to give.

    ~Adrienne

    • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

      Hi Adrienne,

      Life was different, better in some ways, worse in others.

      I understand what you are saying but for me I try not to pay attention to what I see these people holding because I don’t know how they got whatever it is they are holding onto. Maybe they had a house and lost it. A person who once had a home might have owned an iPod or maybe someone gave it to them. I love music and I would try to never sell an iPod because it would be a source of comfort and strength to me, but I can see how people might not think that way.

      Anyway, I usually give to organizations that I believe in so that I don’t have to wrestle with some of these questions.

  • http://www.lifeforinstance.com Lori Gosselin

    I don’t know about this Josh, but first I have to say I find it interesting that you count being “stimulated in a million different ways” as part of your definition of a good life!
    Both my father and my husband have brought a street person to a coffee shop rather than giving money which, as you said, might not be spent on food. I don’t face this physically where I live but my daughter does. She has “caught” some street people in scams and has come to give smiles more than money. It’s not nice when you are abused when you’re giving charity. But it happens.
    Are we obligated to help? It’s a tough question.
    I don’t have an answer :o
    Lori

    • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

      Hi Lori,

      I have a very active mind so I like engaging it, stimulation is important to me.

      A dear friend of mine once walked out of a restaurant carrying a steak dinner in a bag. A homeless man approached him and my friend offered the steak dinner but was turned down because the man said he was a vegetarian. I have never forgotten about that.

      Did the man say no because of principles? Was he not hungry enough to eat? I don’t know.

  • http://tim-bonner.com Tim Bonner

    Hey Josh

    I agree with Mary. I don’t think we’re obligated to help anyone and certainly I think we shouldn’t unless we can take care of our own first.

    I don’t mean that to sound callous but with having two young kids they are the focus of all of my help, attention and most of our money!

    • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

      Hi Tim,

      I understand. Kids are great, but man they can take it out of you. ;)

  • http://necessityofchange.com Mary Stephenson

    Hi Josh

    I don’t we are obligated to help anyone. But on the other hand the question is should we? In order to help others we need to take care of our own first. If that is difficult we should not be handing out to others. Although we can all give kindness. A smile, a thank you, letting someone in front of you, opening the door for others, helping them if they need a hand to accomplish something.

    I have seen some that have given generously to a cause, I think partly out of guilt, because they don’t know how to say no. But their kid could use a hand and they will do nothing for them.

    I think giving should only be done if you want to and doesn’t it seem meaningless if you really are not giving out of love.

    I won’t volunteer for a neighborhood or park clean up, because I live on a corner and everyday kids drop off their garbage in my yard from the fast food place down the street. I clean up every week. I don’t litter and the message is loud and clear as I am constantly dealing with it. There are times that I honestly feel like bagging all the litter up and dumping it in the middle of the floor of the fast food place. But I won’t, it is like the price I pay for having no neighbor on that side of my property…which is not too bad at all.

    I think we should be passionate about what and where we give. Just handing over money because you don’t want to get involved is giving in the wrong way. I suppose the money goes to something good, but you can never really relate to the problems of the world.

    Interesting post and have been thinking about my thoughts on that subject for quite sometime.

    Mary

    • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

      Hi Mary,

      I suppose I see it as a mix. We need to take care of our own but sometimes I think we have to do something to help others because someone has to help kickstart it. It is hard to figure out what and where, especially when it seems like nothing comes from it. So the trick is trying to find something that you feel good about and are confident will benefit. Not always an easy task.

      I don’t see any advantages to throwing money at problems, but I do see reasons to try to give people a hand up so that they can stand on their own because ultimately it helps everyone.

  • http://www.kaarinadillabough.com Kaarina Dillabough

    Life is good. Cheers to that! Kaarina

    • http://joshuawilner.com/ Josh

      Sometimes that is enough to celebrate.