March 8, 2002

Sympathy and Apathy

Sympathy and Apathy

I was on Breakfast of Champions and the author Jamese had a post about apathy and the socioeconomic chasm that exists in today's society. It's an interesting topic really because I often find myself caught in an internal war between the voice in my head that says "Help them" and the voice in my head that says "Help your family first." Plus the other voices like to chime in with unhelpful thoughts like "Are you going to eat that sandwich?" and "Today would be a good day to slap that annoying girl in Customer Support."

Anyway, my friend Kwame and I had a long discussion about this topic once, after he called me out for stepping past a homeless person covered in cardboard, but then saw me take a flyer from some guy because I felt bad that he had to stand there and pass them out in the cold. I know, it doesn't make sense. Right now I'm feeling enormous amounts of guilt because I've only volunteered at a soup kitchen once since I moved to the east coast. I did a lot of volunteer work in high school and college -- I worked at a teen suicide prevention hotline for 4 years and volunteered at a homeless shelter. In college my sorority did enormous amounts of community banks, health fairs, blood drives, soup name it we did it. But since I've started working a real, full-time job I've been less active. A soup kitchen here, a small check there.

I prefer donating my time than my money. It's not just an inherent cheapness. I guess the problem with giving charitable contributions is that it's rather like paying taxes. The money gets sent off but you never actually see what it benefits. You just know it's gone.
Plus I admit I subscribe to the rather unpopular notion that people are best helped by showing them how to get on their feet and work to support themselves. A lot of the people in question may be living on the street, but I assume they're just like everyone else in the sense that they have some self-respect. If I were in dire straits like that I would want to know how to support myself in the future, as opposed to continually living off someone else's largesse. Naturally, this doesn't apply to the mentally ill homeless people. If there's one modification this country should make with regards to the homeless, mentally ill people should not be living out on the streets. If we're not going to execute Andrea Yates because it would be inhumane since she's "crazy" then we shouldn't expect people who are not sane to be able to take care of themselves on the streets. That's inhumane as well.

I've just posted a lot on apathy and all but do you know what true inhumanity is? THIS.

Anyway there's this crackhead woman I always see by Discount Liquors near the Holland Tunnel. George has a hard time looking at her but I always feel like giving her a few bucks. I mean if she's trying to prostitute herself...let's just say it would be easier peddling ice to Eskimos.