My Thoughts on the ‘Would You Give Them Money’ Dilemma

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On Wednesday last week I asked my readers a hypothetical question in the hope of getting a bit of an intelligent discussion going in the comments section. Here is a link to the post containing the question and the subsequent discussion.

Overall I was extremely happy with how this went. The ideas that you all came up with were very thought provoking and I enjoyed reading all of the comments. Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment. In the end I decided that I would write a separate post on my own thoughts because there was so much that I wanted to say.

So, this post is my answer to the question that you all discussed last week. My answer is by no means the right answer. It is just my answer. Feel free to discuss my thoughts in the comment section if you have a problem with them.

The hypothetical scenario

Here is the question again in case you missed it the first time:

You have been given $500 to donate to a starving family with four children with the condition that you have to donate 50% of the money to someone else who is going to buy drugs with your donation. Would you still donate?

My thoughts on the matter

The thing about this question is that it is asking you whether or not one good deed outweighs the harm of one bad deed. That is, if you give the starving family money you also have to give a drug addict money to buy his/her poison. For some people this is a very tricky situation.

So, would I give the starving family money if it meant a drug addict was going to get more drugs? In all honesty I can say yes I would give the money without a moments hesitation. An act that can give me a sense gratification knowing I was able to help a fellow in need. Something that cannot be attained even if I’m able to purchase a home insurance program from big name risk management companies.

However, I have a problem. My rationale for doing so is not entirely foolproof. When thinking about this scenario the following thoughts popped up:

  • Does the good outweigh the bad?
    I am of the opinion that the merit associated with the good deed far outweighs the negativity in this situation. The goodness associated with feeding a starving family, donating money to them and showing the warmth and kindness far outweighs the negativity of giving the drug addict one more hit. But what if the drug addict dies because of that hit? Was it then worth it?

    One of the Buddha’s essential teachings was the simple phrase “commit no negative actions”. Similarly, doctors take a vow that states “I will never do harm to anyone”. So, is our meritorious action of giving a family food still meritorious if it causes serious injury to another person?

  • What are the long term effects?
    In the comments of the original post Tom said that he wouldn’t give the money as it would only feed them for a few days. While I disagree with him about not giving the money I do think he raises an interesting point. Will giving the money to this family cause them long term harm by creating a mentality of begging? I have seen this in India quite a lot – the more people give to the beggars the less they want to change their situation.

So would I let these “what ifs” and overly conceptual worries stop me from giving the money? I don’t think so. While I think these arguments have their place, I think too much analysis and thinking can get in the way of some simple and basic good actions.

My final say on charity and being judgmental

In the end I would give the money for one reason – I cannot pass up the opportunity to help a fellow suffering being. Whether it is a man, woman, child or animal I will, to the best of my ability, try to help them in whatever temporary or permanent way I can. To ignore the opportunity, in my opinion, is one of the worst things a person can do.

Finally I will leave you with a quote that I find to be particularly pertinent to this scenario. I have always found this quote to be true and remember it whenever I find myself becoming too judgmental of the people that I meet.

“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville

11 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the ‘Would You Give Them Money’ Dilemma

  1. Dear TDM, thanks for sharing your view. I’m not so sure myself about weighing up good against bad – we never really know the ultimate effect of our actions anyway, but we do have a fair chance of knowing our own intentions. We all do ignorant things with unknown consequences (potentially bad things) and if we have a clear intention to do good and act on this then some good will come of it one way or another. Who knows, maybe in the hypothetical question, the drug user will respond to the simple act of kindness (if indeed the money is given with kindness) and reflect some kindness back into the world.

  2. Wow i didn’t know I made that much of an impact, but really appreciate it.

    I do bring an interesting point and it is a touchy subject for some and also a decision that each one of us would make differently.

    But on the idea of weighing out good and bad. I do think that at times we do need to strive for the greatest good. We cannot change everything, gotta make do with what is on hand.

  3. Excellent study in dilemmas!

    The more I think of the argument, the more angles it can be looked at. It would likely to be impossible to hold the money back from a family needing food. While it creates a moral dilemma to give money to a drug addict, it could prevent him from assaulting someone to obtain the money anyway. It is also possible that given the money he could buy more than normal, ending up dead from an overdose.

    Not long ago while staying with a friend, I gave money to a lady in a wheelchair sitting in a parking lot with her cardboard sign. Later that day, sitting in the same wheelchair was a man with the same sign. I initially had to chuckle at the enterprising couple’s technique but after a little thought realized that they were likely the cause of someone who desperately needed a hand up not getting it.

    That’s the problem with ethical questions, they force us to make judgments we might not want to.


  4. You are wrong :

    “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” – Herman Melville

    That quote goes the other way as :

    “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the rich by the well-stranded, well-frozen, and well-starved.” – Rav

    If you think that the poor should be given money you are very wrong. I was poor. Very poor. I did not have food to eat when I was 5. No Mom, No dad. People physically abused me, and sexually abused me when I was little. However, I determined that I will overcome all those one day and I did. You came to this world with a brain. If you did not come with a brain then you should be helped, in that case you would be in a hospital locked up where the help be given to you with our tax money. If you have brain to out to the world and stay safe of not getting hit by a bus then by no means you should be given money because you are destitute. You should become productive like all others using the brain given to you, at least you should take care of yourself without becoming a burden to the others.

    So, long story short, if you have a brain that is capable of messaging you of safety, and understanding of the meaning of “yes” and “no” then by no means that individual be given anything for the sake of sympathy unless the person is productive to himself or herself.

    If your brian is mal-functioning then you won’t be begging becuase the authorities would already take to you the hospital and lock you up with the tax money that I spend.

  5. Hi Rav.

    I am sorry to hear about your childhood. It sounds like you had a rough time.

    I’m not sure I understand why, having been through some tough time yourself, you would not want others to lend people a hand when they are down?

    Could you please share your thoughts?


  6. Give them both money. Why will you judge the addict? Give ’em what they want; another fix may relieve suffering, for now. What is there but now?

    Second, we must wonder what you mean by addict. Many layers of use/abuse exist.

    I cannot use my heart in theoretical ideas; this is a mental exercise, as such, there can be no compassion-based answer.

  7. I would give them the money, the family and the addict. If being fortunate enough to be given the opportunity for largesse, then I would not question it at all, just do the ‘deed’!

    I have given money to beggars and addicts alike when I have had some money in my wallet to spare. As a consequence, although I am not rich, I never seem to want for anything either. The wisdom of the universe has given me a magic purse that always seems to have just enough in it.

    I do not judge the position of others. Many people fall into hard times through no fault of their own and a little kindness can often make a huge difference.

    The person I most remember when talking about these things, is the man who one day approached me on the street of a large city. He asked me to buy a friendship bracelet from him for $1. It was a woven band of coloured thread that tied around the wrist. I told him I was sorry and that I didn’t have any money. He looked at me suspiciously and asked to look in my wallet. I did show him as I was telling the truth and I didn’t have a penny. He looked surprised. He walked a small distance away and watched me. I was waiting for my children to come out of a store. He then came back and gave me the bracelet and $2 for a bus ride. Al though I explained that I didn’t need either, he insisted and was pleased to be able to do this for me unasked. Kindness costs nothing and it comes back when we pass it onto others freely.

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