Most of us live in a society with an abundance of social roles and situations, as well as an abundance of economic levels, from very poor to very rich. Most of us see ourselves as normal people with limited time and resources. If we happen to consider ourselves middle class, we are probably frustrated with those who are rich and we pity those who are poor. If we have such feelings, how are we supposed to act ?
Most of the time, we don’t do anything, unless we are directly involved with either of such people. Street beggars are probably the most representative symbol that we have in mind when we think of those living in poverty. At the same time they are also considered a symbol of lying and deceiving. If we encounter them, we are faced with an emotional dilemma: to follow our desire to help or our fear of being fooled. Most of the time, the fear is stronger.
There are at least two questions we need to ask: what to do as individuals and what to do as a society ? Do we want to help those people integrate in the bigger group or just ignore them ?
If we are to choose the first option, we must acknowledge that such a goal can rarely be accomplished by simple individuals. Instead, we need to build organizations to manage this issue. If we really want to help those people, then we need to become more active in supporting such organizations, in any way we can. This requires more effort than just offering a few coins.
We have to ask ourselves: what do we want to accomplish ? Do we really want to make a significant change for a person or do we just want to feel a temporary human connection ?
Most of the time, the first option seems too complicated for us, so we become content with a simple and temporary act of charity. Such acts maintain the image of good people we have about ourselves.
Is this all we want ? We must be truly sincere with ourselves. We might realize that we don’t really want to be involved in anything more than that, which is perfectly ok. We might also realize that we want to make a significant change for those people, in which case we can look for better solutions. Whichever desire we have, we must understand that the choice is ours and we must take full responsibility for it.
True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it.
— Daniel Goleman