Over the past several years, the number of beggars and panhandlers I give money to has increased from many of them to all of them. The reason isn't that I'm a 'good person,' as if that generality does justice to anyone's dark and contradictory nuances... and it's not like I'm particularly nice half the time. As much as I stress the importance of being radically open and receiving others, I often struggle to still my inner chaos and be gentle with other people's spirits moment to moment.
In fact, not only does giving everyone a few bucks feel pleasant, it's also a great distraction from the occasional urge to kick dirt in the teeth of someone who always needs it the least. Are you really asking me for loot while I'm not only on the phone but actively talking the whole time I walk past you? Are you really so bent that you're asking me again five minutes after I gave you $5? Do I look that much different passing you from this direction? Really, your eyes all pin-needled and that stroller with baby your salesmanship?
I don't do it for last week's not-quite-mutual kiss on the cheek from a toothless crackhead, even if the song and dance she did after I gave her ten bucks was its own kind of endearing. I don't do it only for the gratifying feeling, the biological ego scratch that comes with good deeds... which can give them a selfish component adding paradox to the more unconditional parts of our nature.
I don't do it only for the good karma, as if whatever blend of things coming to me rides entirely upon giving drunks, addicts, sober people and the genuinely homeless a handout. I'm sure it helps, but karma means 'action' and handouts are certainly not the actions most decisive of my character. One could even argue that the ability to give handouts is predicated in part on my own selfishness... which exists in the same breath as my loving nature, of which generosity is only one expression.
I do it for transformation — to propel all narratives further in the directions they will go. If karma means action, that's not just the golden rule in motion... what can always be perceived as our actions visiting themselves back upon us, a kind of psychic reality. This is action, moving images, as the game itself. Keep the stories going and the songs playing, in all their entangled music and magic. An addict getting his fix is that much closer to changing his life, or hitting rock bottom and changing his life, or just hitting rock bottom. It's a catalyst.
At our best, we hope each person emerges victorious. Some won't, and some see no need to. Some truly struggle to maintain hope, others find a strange type of victory in resignation. All of these narratives will continue to endure, regardless of whether anyone reaches out. Stir the pot, keep things moving. Both your money and the depth of your emotions, as different as they are, become stale if you hoard them and find a reason not to connect.
You can politicize the act of not giving an addict money, but the story is always bigger than such evasiveness. That a panhandler might spend my money on choices I disagree with? Not that important. The stories surrounding the exchange, all the struggles and shadows that lead a person to the point of sitting on the sidewalk begging others for help in one form or another, whether out of desperation, laziness, or conscious manipulation... the point is to keep the stories going, and prompt people to their next chapters. If the addict shows disdain for your preferred offerings of food, clothes, or whatever they say the money is for, know that their fix might be the only thing that will lead them to the next chapter, however splendid or bleak its promise.
You don't have to agree with someone to believe in them.
When I first shared this story, a friend of mine commented that he could not disagree more, that “unearned money is poison to the soul.” This is certainly true sometimes — the ‘irrational rationality’ of money allows some to make millions in ways that put the word ‘earn’ into debatable perspective. But to dismiss the act of giving money to panhandlers might also be to dismiss the act of giving a gift. The gift might be misused in the eyes of many, but that does not make it poison to the soul.
More than a few insightful people in my life have remarked that the 'psychopomp' instinct is strong with me, to escort others 'to the underworld'... and back. I'll say I've had this mission and delivered on it by one means or another my entire life. As much as I take care to remind a beggar or addict that they are loved and appreciated, I give them resources with which to do what they want. It's just as big a catalyst as kind words, without any value judgment attached to outcomes. Transformation can read like chaos.
One of the problems with human fire, creative drive, daytime psyche, our will to get shit done... it has an implicit tyranny. Even if your vision of how the world 'should' be comes from a positive place — it affirms you and you believe it will improve others' lives in some way — its singular nature tends to burn up contradicting viewpoints. Some very awful things have come from a 'positive' place of belief that they would improve the world. The music is not just the notes but the spaces between them, that careful listening which always shows us there is more than one way.
As for the woman with the Misfits shirt mentioned earlier? I wasn't there, and I don't know if she loudspeakered her problem much. Perhaps she was on a sociopolitical soapbox, or maybe she was just irritated in the moment. No matter the reason, being too filled up with a viewpoint, ongoingly or in a particular moment, can be like fire to water. Dogmatism often leaves little room for openness to others. One of the most beautiful aspects of Gemini is that mercurial tendency to stir up stagnant ways of thinking, de-literalize them, show how many different points of view there are... like an eternal heckler at dogma's enduring comedy night.
So it's poetry like raindrops from the stars, when a lovely person shakes some change to shake up the dogma in someone's thinking... then tossing it into another human's cup.
The word 'merchant' comes from Mercury, the planet between sun and earth, messenger between us and these pieces of the heavens. There is magic in every type of exchange.
Do it like her, all beautiful and mercurial like that.