I was talking to a friend the other night, and she said something that kind of shocked me. We were discussing a mutual friend whose debit card (and, subsequently, entire paycheck) was stolen, and I said, “I’m so tempted to loan her money, but I’m trying to remind myself that her parents are able to help and I don’t need to jump in.”
My friend responded, “You’ve got to stop helping people. All it does is get them ahead while you struggle to keep up.”
Given my history of compulsive shopping and spending, it may or may not surprise you to know that I also have a long history of giving to others. I’m not saying that to brag on myself; it’s just the way I roll. If someone needs a dollar and I have a dollar, I’m going to give it to them. If a friend’s car is in the shop and she needs groceries, I’ll drive her to the store. I’m a big believer in karma and paying it forward, so I figure I’m setting myself up for good things someday. And if not, at least I did something nice for another person.
My friend’s comment kind of caught me off guard. And, naturally, I have dwelled on it ever since. (Like I don’t spend enough time analyzing myself!) Am I giving to others to my own detriment? Should I resist the urge to do what feels right in favor of how it could impact me in the long run?
I understand that I can’t give something I don’t really have to give. For instance, if someone needed $1000 right now, I would have to remind myself I need that money to keep myself and my son afloat. But if they needed $10? I wouldn’t think twice. Or if someone needed clothes? I could pull a whole wardrobe out of my closet without touching the things I wear on a regular basis. Why wouldn’t I do things like that when it doesn’t hurt me in any way to do it?
Sometimes I Get Bitten
A few years ago, a man was sleeping on a bench in my town. Now I know that’s pretty common in a lot of places, but not around here. His story was pretty typical – his wife packed up their kids and left, he started drinking, lost his job, and ended up homeless. My church decided to give him a hand up. One member owned some apartments and gave him one rent-free until he could find a job. The church bought appliances. People bought him clothes, food, and toiletries.
I donated money to go toward clothing and food, then at the last minute, I decided to give the man an old TV I had. It was just sitting in a room collecting dust, and I figured he’d enjoy having some form of entertainment. I will never forget the look on his face when I took it to the apartment. It was like Christmas for him.
Within weeks, he was sober, working, and constantly asking for ways to help the church. It was amazing what the help had done for him. Three months later, his apartment was completely empty – he had pawned everything, including the appliances and the TV I donated, and taken off to who knows where.
Now a lot of people will hear that and say, “See? That’s proof you shouldn’t help people. They just take advantage and now you lost your TV.”
For me? Yeah, it sucks, but I gave it for the right reasons and I’m at peace with it. Hopefully one day he’ll look back on all that my church did for him and use it as motivation to truly change his life. I’m not going to waste time regretting what I did because there’s no point.
What Do You Think?
Is it stupid to give to others? What circumstances make it okay to reach out to someone in need, versus sitting back and waiting for someone else to step up? Should we always expect something in return when we help others?