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Author Topic: Taking advantage of altruism
The Drake
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I'm going to respond to the other threads in play, and give them the attention they deserve. But this is another angle.

Tonight, I had two people approach me on the street to get something from me. The first person claimed that he was homeless, and wanted a few dollars for something to eat. He was far from emaciated, with clean clothes, and clean shaven as well.

I stopped, which I normally don't do, and ask him, "Why should I help you?" His response, that I should help him out because it was good to help someone who was less advantaged (paraphrasing).

Number two, somebody approached me with a sack of stuff. He insisted that he was down on his luck, and wanted to sell me a Playstation2 for $20. I responded that I already had one (which I do), and he appealed to my better nature to execute the transaction anyway, because he really needed the money.

A third case was one in which, walking to a train station, I saw an automobile clearly in distress. The driver pulled to the side of the road, and made no demand on me on the other side of the street. The driver activated their hazard signals. I proceeded to my destination without engaging the motorists.

As a person who believes in altruism or chivalry, how would you respond to these situations, and why?

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RickyB
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I'd help the last guy. I try to always stop for motorists in distress (specially two-wheeled ones). Almost always they don't need the help, what with cell phones today, but I try to make the gesture. That's a classic karma call [Smile] Then again, I take hitchers on my bike, so maybe I'm not a good example [Smile]

The first beggar I'd blow off without a second thought. The second I'd sympathize with but wouldn't buy what I had no us for.

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Jesse
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Guy number one may very well be recently homeless. I'd talk to him for a while, ask him where he was staying and how he was getting by, and if I smelled any BS I'd walk away.

If not, I'd ask him if he had any contact numbers, (I've got a stack of booklets handy), ask him if he was hungry, and if he was, I'd buy him some food and talk to him a bit more.

Depending on what sort of person he was, and what I thought of him, I'd have him driving a fork lift and making 12 bucks an hour by Monday.

I'd tell guy number two to step back before I reported him to the cops for trying to sell me stolen property.

Case number three? I don't have enough information. What part of town, what time of day, whether the driver was elderly, what kind of car it was, all would play a role in my decision.

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LoverOfJoy
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Unfortunately, I'd have to honestly say that in many circumstances I wouldn't help any of them.

If I am late, have a car packed full of my kids, or otherwise preoccupied I probably walk/drive by these people without much thought. [Frown]

But I've actually helped people in situations similar to each one you've described but I can't say I've done it every time. I have to say that since I've gotten married and had kids I have become less likely to help these people. I think partly it is concern for their safety and partly because of the business of my life and lack of funds. Hopefully that will change as I progress in my career.

It's true that my initial gut reaction to a beggar that doesn't seem to be poor/homeless/hungry is to be suspicious but I try to hold that feeling at bay. I'm no perfect judge and I don't want to encourage people to try to act more hungry or pathetic just so that I even listen to them.

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Jesse
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It's never a bad idea to help someone when a hand up will suffice instead of waiting to scrape the body off the rocks below [Wink]
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scifibum
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@Jesse. Have you actually gone through with that scenario of getting a beggar a job before? It strikes me that most people that would be capable, suitable, and willing to work wouldn't resort to begging in the first place...they'd be down at the unemployment office and/or pounding the pavement before they got to the point of total destitution. And of course there are soup kitchens if they need a meal.

Just curious.

Edit: this was my 1000th post. {smacks forehead}

[ August 15, 2007, 08:38 PM: Message edited by: scifibum ]

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Jesse
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I've done it more than once. I was the first homeless guy I found a job for, and it just got easier from there.

I've bummed bus fare before, so that I could make it to work, or to look for work. Even managed to pay it pack a couple times. I've accepted offered charity before, too.

None of that made me unwilling to work.

Try "pounding the pavement" without a mailing adress or a phone or cash to make copies of resumes.

Unemployment doesn't pay out if your employer lies succesfully, if you goofed up enough to make your firing justified, if you were a student before your folks kicked you out on the street, or if you just got out of the joint.

Some people sit around on it too long, hoping for a job they can actually survive on, and blow it. Some people are self employed before their wife kicks them out and their truck gets stolen with all their tools in it.

Soup kitchens are almost universally miles from jobs, require transiting areas with high levels of police harrasment, require standing in line, often involve sitting through some crappy sermon, and almost universally fail to provide very nourishing food.

They're for those who have simply given up, the hardcore wetbrains, the full bore crazies, and going to one is a darn good way to get tailed and jumped if you look like a fresh fish.

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Zyne
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1) Not cash. I'd be more inclined to go and get food for him. Have done that before. I might offer him some cash, depending on where the conversation went and how the food was accepted. Have done that before, when the food was met with a reaction of sincerity. I'd treat this one with some skepticism, because it's an easy story to tell, though I'd be looking to be persuaded, because while its easy to be homeless and not emaciated, it's hard to be homeless and well groomed. If the latter is his case, the man deserves to be regarded as one in an unfortunate situation struggling to make his life better. And that man, he deserves help.

2) Run. I'd assume all was stolen.

3) I have a cell phone. I'd check in with the driver to see if he had a cell phone or needed help. I'd offer to call for help if the driver wanted that. Because it stinks to be a stranded motorist, and offering to make a call, or even use of my phone, is a Very Small Thing.

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KnightEnder
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At least once a month I help people like the third. The other two I'd probably blow off because life has made me more cynical than I'd like to be.

One week after I pushed an old lady and her young sons car out of the road in 95 degree Texas heat (on the way to a job interview, I arrived soaked) two guys pushed my wife and two yound sons off the feeder of the freeway, in the pouring rain, where they had broken down. God bless those guys.


Karma.

KE

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Jesse
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Be aware, any scam artist can pick up some old clothes at the goodwill and rub them in dirt. Anyone can rub some grime on their face.

Most scam artist do exactly this stuff.


______
On september 12th or 13th, 2001, a very atractive crying young woman with nice hair and clothes walked up to my truck in the Flying J in East St. Luis and knocked on the door timidly. The first thing out of her mouth was "I'm not a hooker, some guy thought I was a hooker, I'm not, I'm a Flight Attendant!"

She said she was grounded in Baltimore, she lived in Denver, and rented a car to try to make it home for her sons birthday. She was expecting her pay to be direct deposited, but it didn't happen. She swore that she didn't have anyone to call, and that if we could just help her with some gas money, she would pay us back.

I told her to show me her badge. She wiped away a few tears and said "Ok, I'll be right back". She came back with a standard issue stewardess blazer with a badge (I forget which airline), looking scared out of her wits, and sobs "I'm not lying..."

Some turd gave her a bunch of "hey baby get in my truck" on her way back and scared the crap out of her. I felt like crap for not believing her, and handed her a hundred bucks. She asked for my adress and I told her not to worry about it, she kept insisting, and finally I walked her to her car and filled her tank for her.

I felt like a total lump for not believing her.

End of the story? My dispatcher texts me saying he's got an envelope adressed to my truck (not kidding, the company adress on the envelope + my tractor number and plate number). Hundred dollar check inside and a picture of her son blowing out candles.

Why trust people unless there is overwhelming reason not to? It makes the world a nicer place to live in. I really wish I could tell that story *without* the part about her getting scared out of her mind alone in the dark in a sleazy truck stop.

[ August 16, 2007, 04:35 PM: Message edited by: Jesse ]

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LetterRip
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Zyne,

same reaction for all 3 groups.

Jesse,

I can totally understand both your skepticism and guilt afterwards.

LetterRip

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The Drake
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Thanks everyone for your responses.

In the case of the first person, for those who would help out - either by purchasing food or giving money - why would you take this action? And I noticed that nobody mentioned asking the person how they got into that situation. Assuming he was what he said he was, does it matter how he lost his home?

It's also interesting that most people consider the second person less trustworthy than the first. Why would you put more trust in person 1, who asks for a handout, than person 2, who offers to sell something?

In the case of the third person, the stopped car, what makes you assume that the person wants you to intrude? Why wouldn't you assume that someone would flag down passersby, raise the hood, or otherwise indicate that they wanted help?

As for the fourth case introduced, it seems to stretch credibility. An airline employee travels all over the country, but has no credit card? How did she manage to rent a car? You can't even rent the car if you don't have a credit card. She has a kid, so someone is watching the kid, but she can't call that person? I don't know many parents who would leave their kid with no way to check up on them. It's unclear exactly what was going on, but it surely doesn't stack up under scrutiny.

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Jesse
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Drake, has it occured to you that the credit card was maxed?

She had no one to call FOR MONEY. Such things happen when someone is bad with cash and is supporting their Grandmother and kid.

I don't think someone should have to turn tricks for gas money because they're financialy irresponsible. When I see wolves charging another bipedal primate, I pick up a stick and swing.

I don't question whether or not being foolish enough to camp where they ate is what attracted the wolves.

The question, for me, is not whether or not I can manufacture an excuse not to help someone by blaming them for their lack of perfect foresight, but whether my help is needed, whether I can afford to help, and whether my help is likely to remedy the situation.

I'm sorry for not writing novellas, but I made it absolutely clear that I'd have a prolonged conversation with guy #1 before deciding what I thought I could do to help him.

"Deserve" has nothing to do with it.

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Zyne
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Drake, on the 4th case ... Considering the date and her profession, anything was possible. Including going overdrawn on her credit card, or having her credit card shut off by the issuer for 'fraud protection', etc.
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Greg Davidson
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Tzedakah (often mistranslated as charity) is hard to do. Jewish law says you give some money to the person asking for it, not as a favor to them but as your responsibility (mitzvah). The thought is that you owe everything to God, and it is your duty to share your wealth with others (doesn't have to be a large amount).

I just read a book whose thesis was that when you have an instinct to help, but you resist it, most people then start a logical cascade where you start to generate rationalizations to justify your behavior. The beggar is not deserving, he or she could be working, they are probably lazy, etc.

Interestingly, in Jewish law it is not about your mindset or attitude - cheerful, joyful giving is not particularly more worthy than other forms of giving, the important thing is that you give.

For Case #2, the game might be stolen, so just give a dollar or two. For helping the car, I do this all the time.

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Greg Davidson
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PS: I believe that the title of this thread "Taking advantage of altruism" is just wrong. Someone who deceitfully begs is doing wrong, and if there were clear evidence of wrongdoing it would be appropriate to take action, but even if I give to someone who is lying that does not invalidate the act of tzedakah.
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The Drake
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Jesse, I'm not sure what I've done to earn your hostility. No one asked you to write a novella, and my comments were directed at everyone's responses, not just yours. I haven't attacked any of the choices that you made, I'm merely asking questions to try and divine the thought process that people use to determine whether someone deserves their altruism, when we clearly all know that some people take advantage of it.

You acknowledge this in terms of guy #1, that you would have a long conversation with him before helping. But yet you regret asking the stewardess any questions that might cause her discomfort. Why are the two cases different?

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The Drake
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Interesting Greg, thanks for the perspective. It sounds like you don't really think of your money as belonging to you as much as it belongs to God. Particularly the idea that it is a duty, rather than a choice.

The book sounds good. Does it discuss this instinct to help in detail?

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Jesse
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Nope, I regret not walking to her car with her to confirm her story. I regret being an ass, not doing due diligence.

The "no one would ask how he got there" comment is what I was arguing with. Personaly, I would have asked him how he wound up where he was for the purpose of knowing how to help him out and whether I could take the risk of getting him a job without getting burned.

In some cases, say little old lady with a flat, it's very easy to see what needs to be done and do it. In others, it isn't.

That's what I meant with the Unforgiven quote.

I don't help people because they deserve it.

If it turned out the guy had foolishly gambled all his money away, it wouldn't decrease my desire to help him, but it would make my decision to help him contingent upon his attending a 12 step program, and his convincing me that he really wanted to make a change.

The fact that I actively desire to help people doesn't mean that I waste my effort on things which clearly won't actually help.

In a sense, to me, your question boils down to "Why invest in the market when some companies defraud investors?".

Everything we do in life involves risk.

Side Note - I'm routinely shocked by people, not just you by a long shot, interpreting things as hostility .

Not my intent.

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The Drake
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Thanks for clarifying, Jesse.

So, your diligence refers to making sure they legitimately need help, and that the help will not be wasted, but NOT what transpired to put them in that situation - except as needed to satisfy the first two requirements?

I'd be happy to tell you why I interpreted your post as hostile, but you don't have an email contact on the website.

An frankly, no. It didn't occur to me that someone could pay for an auto rental, and not have money for gas, but it is possible.

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Jesse
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Pretty much, yeah.

However, just as I wouldn't make a massive investigatory effort before paying two dollars for a muffin, I don't make that kind of massive effort before deciding to give a guy a bottle of water on a hot day:)

Some folks, I'm not going to do more than hand them a pamphlet and/or buy them something to eat or drink. The risk/reward is something that gets taken into account.

If a guy is dangling from a cliff, I'm not going to consider whether he was pushed, or foolishly leaned out over the edge, or shouldn't have been drinking in that location, or whatever. I'm going to evaluate the risk of trying to save him and the probability of sucess.

I'm not going to refuse to throw a rope without a contract, but I'm not going to leap to my own death.

Once he's safe, and can think a bit more clearly, it's a good time to discuss how not to wind up dangling from the cliff again.

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