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