The grateful and the ungrateful

Christmas is coming, and Americans are thinking more about charity than they usually do. This means, among other things, that there will be more food collections than usual for people who don’t have enough to eat (at least by US standards, since most of these poor people have cars, TVs, DVD players, cell phones and other things that are luxuries in other countries). And some of the people are fat, sometimes because they eat too much, but very often because they eat all the wrong foods. (The lady next door to one of my friends never gave her children fruit, for example.)

When I was in high school, and the students would collect and donate the food throughout the year, the reactions of the recipients were very different when the food was delivered. Usually the people were very grateful. Sometimes the people weren’t grateful, because they thought they were entitled to the food and that the people should be giving them even more. Some people were not only ungrateful, but they were downright angry that anyone was giving them anything.

Sometimes people need our charity and we give it to them. Either we give them something material, or we give them some kind of help that they need. Sometimes these people are grateful, and sometimes they are ungrateful, even though they need the help.

If you had to look the people in the face, would you help the ones who aren’t grateful, or only the ones who are grateful?

On my 12th christmas my mom started an unpopular tradition in our family of going down to the soup kitchens and handing out food, at the time I hated but now I think it was a good experience. We were pretty poor ourselves but I got to see what true poverty was, no house, no food, no nothing. Anyway everyyear we would get some young middle to upper middle class college kids come by to help out, they would bitch and moan about the smells of some people , their clothes ,ect, and they would constantly tell themselves how they were such "good’ people for helping out, I’m sure they went and told just about every person they know “yeah, I passed out food on thanksgiving!I was helping POOR people!”, but it was the most selfish thing I saw, they passed out food not because they cared about the people who weren’t lucky enough to have any, they passed out food because they wanted to feel good about themselves, they wanted a story to tell their friends. Those one timers never came back the next year, they got what THEY wanted.

If I had to take food at a shelter I don’t think I would feel so great either,how about yourself? Whether their grateful or not doesn’t matter, its not about making you feel better , its about helping people.

I agree with you. There’s a certain primitive type of charity that isn’t charity at all, but is all about the giver’s ego. That type of person needs gratitude, and he gets in, does the “work”, and gets out. You see this in nursing homes every Christmas. People come in in organized groups, sing Christmas songs to the people to “brighten their day”, and then the little philanthropists dart off, all freaked out by Alzheimer’s disease, impending death and other things people don’t want to see. Few of them would think to come back in a day or two and make friends with some lonesome patient who has no visitors.

The really tough charity is the charity that DOESN’T make the giver feel good! Maybe the task is disgusting, or the people receiving the charity are disgusting and won’t help themselves, or the recipients are ungrateful or even hostile. It takes real commitment to do that work.

One company where I worked used to press us to make donations to one particular charitable organization that funds other charities. I did not give, so I received a visit from a lady from human resources. I told her I wasn’t giving because I already gave to different charities. That was okay with her, but out of curiosity she asked me what charities they were. I told her the names. “What do they do?” she asked me. As I explained their work, she started to gag and didn’t want to hear any more. I told her, “I know it’s disgusting, but those people need help. People don’t want to hear about it, and that’s all the more reason the organizations need my donations.”

That’s true, so I should probably feel less eleemosynary than I did when I was still a student some 10 years ago. Then I would give money to the odd homeless person in the street even though I was pretty low on funds myself. Now I’ve completely stopped doing this thinking “those people claim part of my income tax!”

I don’t know whether I should reconsider my attitude, but maybe it’s an erring instinct that tells me not to give those people cash. I still donate small amounts of money to charity organisations and foundations like children’s cancer aid (Kinderkrebshilfe), the WWF and AIDS research.

My mum donates the hard way. Whenever there are travelers (Irish gypsies), Sinti (Romanian gypsies) or representatives of the Catholic Church of Ireland knocking on her door, she gives them whatever small change is in her pocket, walks up to my room, picks whatever clothes lie around and surrenders them to the person on the doorstep.

I will never forgive her sacrificing the brand new adidas tracksuit I got for my fourteenth birthday. I was fourteen and a week when I came back home on that January evening and found my room depleted of all clothing that had been scattered on the floor. Naturally, I ran down the stairs and demanded an explanation only to learn that “if you can’t appreciate its value, I’m sure the knacker kids can!”

The test is to offer them what they ask for. In US cities, they usually ask you for “some money to get something to eat”. If you offer them food instead of money, they’ll refuse it. If you offer to take them shopping at the supermarket, they’ll refuse. If you offer to take them to a restaurant and pay for anything they order, they’ll refuse. They usually use the money for alcohol or drugs, so no one is doing them any favors by giving them cash. In the US, we have enough of a charity infrastructure that they can all get food and a place to sleep if they choose. Some of the people choose street life, however, and no amount of charity will take them off the street.

Now that we have big casinos in my city, it’s becoming more and more common to see well-dressed, well-educated panhandlers who ask you for money for food.

You mom and my parents would have gotten along wonderfully.

Have you ever tried asking a homeless guy out? I don’t think I’d dare…

this reminds me of an old saying:

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

In light of the discussion, do you agree with that statement?

There are two sides to the story. I do believe that beggars can opt for a better life. But once you’re down in the gutter, you’re not left with much choice. You can only try to get out of it.

I don’t want to be too hard on beggars; most of them are probably quite desperate people. But I do firmly believe that everybody should somehow be able to sort out his own mess again. You often hear stories of high profile lawyers ending up on the street, but in my humble opinion that is more likely due to alcoholism than anything else.

Maybe we should make a difference between ordinary tramps and hobos :?:


Some homeless folks are homeless by choice, it seems – they are perfectly mentally/physically able to support themselves, but they seem to not want to have to handle the responsibility of handling bills/job etc.

Others want to get out of it. Those are the ones I’d most like to help.

I knew a guy like that! He was known at our local art museum as “The Eater”. He was a very intelligent man who tutored math and physics at a university when he needed cash. Normally he lived in some part of one of the university buildings where there was no burglar alarm or security camera. He got his name because he had an amazing knack for finding every event or art gallery reception that had a buffet table. He’d even find a way to sneak into the private ones, right past the guards.

Once The Eater was confronted by a homeless man who said, “You’re not crazy or anything! Why don’t you get a job?” The Eater told him that if he had a job, his time wouldn’t be his own.

There are some people who say they’re not homeless by choice, even though their homelessness resulted from a series of bad choices. I know of a family who wouldn’t sell their two expensive cars or move into a smaller house, so they were crushed under debt, and that’s how they wound up homeless. Their refusal to scale down pushed them down to the ultimate bottom of the scale.

It’s interesting that you say that. In the US we’re often told by the financial media that charitable giving in Europe is so low compared to the US because personal income taxes are so enormous to support the “social hammock”, as it’s called in Germany. (Ours in the US is called “the social safety net”, because you’re supposed to land in it if you lose your balance, but you’re not supposed to take a snooze in it.) As the story goes, Europeans think they’re so overtaxed that the government should help the less fortunate and that the high taxes absolve ordinary people of doing so out of their own pockets.

On the other hand, I don’t blame you for not giving money to beggars on the street. Most of them are professionals.

“There are some people who say they’re not homeless by choice, even though their homelessness resulted from a series of bad choices. I know of a family who wouldn’t sell their two expensive cars or move into a smaller house, so they were crushed under debt, and that’s how they wound up homeless. Their refusal to scale down pushed them down to the ultimate bottom of the scale.”

Jamie, yeah, that’s tough. How do we respond to them?

“Sorry, dude, but you f’ed up!”?


Thing is, those people are entitled to all kinds of social benefits. Whether it’s paid for by tax money or any other kind of social security contribution I don’t care. People who can claim that get a flat and enough money for food and clothes. In Germany, the overall value of social benefit can be as high as € 650 per month. I had less when I was a student.

I suppose the job of whoever is helping them in a sustained manner is to make sure they know how they got into the predicament, and then help them get back on their feet. Handouts will only help those people temporarily.

I don’t disagree with your opinion.

In the States they now tend to keep more tension in the lives of welfare recipients, so in my state, I believe that most people get kicked off the dole in two years. In the meantime, the state will do everything in its power to get you qualified and into a job, but then you really have to get into the workforce, or else. When the government instituted this system, some of the recipients were resentful, but just as many were indescribably delighted, because they had never realized they could be employed and productive.

However, there are many Americans who refuse to take welfare, partly out of pride, and partly because they know that once the welfare bureaucracy gets its hooks into you, they make it harder and harder for you to become self-sufficient again. Those people are helped by their families, friends and charitable agencies.

In the Czech Republic, in the early '90s, I knew a German guy who lived on some kind of social assistance while shacked up with his Czech girlfriend in the land of cheap beer and groceries. He’d go back to Germany enough to make the government think he really lived there, but most of the time he was living like a rich man among the Czechs, constantly yelling, “Ich werde immer dicker! Ich werde immer dicker!”

Once I was in his girlfriend’s apartment, and we were watching a documentary on German TV about the sad state of German single mothers on social assistance. The Czechs were laughing. The high point came when the program showed the state-subsidized apartment that one woman had to accept. In a dramatically tragic voice, the German narrator said, “The furniture is not new.” The Czech women in the room started screaming, “GIVE ME THAT APARTMENT! I WANT THAT APARTMENT!” It looked like a palace to them.


…a humorous picture of Communism in action.

(I’ll assume you’re referring to the CR when it was Czechoslovakia and a Commie holding)

No, about three years after. Their earning power and infrastructure hadn’t caught up to Germany’s yet, and they still haven’t.

Nothing is so hard as man’s ingratitude. And at times it seems that whinging is the dearest child of many Germans. You could also call this nag widespread discontent. Discontent with all kinds of political, social and private conditions, usually reviving most Germans’ infamous ambition to perfect a system in order to be more efficient. But there are also quite a few people who perfect their system of exploiting the welfare state. Those people take the social net for granted and do not see their own responsibility to contribute to it. I find this attitude quite sickening.

We have people with that same entitlement attitude in the US, but in recent years they’ve made it harder for folks to be that way.

As for perfecting things, I remember reading a quote from a Finnish politician once. He said he’d gone into politics with the hope of making people happy. However, as he solved more and more of their problems, he found that people never stopped complaining. Because of that, he said he changed his goal to hearing people complain about smaller and smaller things.