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.


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.

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