Say a friend you haven’t seen in years texts you for money. You may wonder if she’s gambling or using, right? What if it’s a stranger asking for food money? You want to avoid callousness, but don’t want to be a sucker either. Personal desires to feel good about giving can be exploited.
Attitudes toward charity have a social history as well. In medieval Europe, monks ran hospitals to heal soul and body, care for weary pilgrims, and minister to the poor. The purpose of post-enlightenment hospitals of today has changed in a society where the welfare of the body and soul are separated.
Partly in response to monastic refusals to pry into the claims of petitioners, Spanish Catholic philosopher Juan Vives suggested the state judge whether sufferers brought poverty or illness upon themselves before agreeing to help. These ideas, enacted in laws, were adopted mostly in protestant nations where monasteries and their hospitals were closed.
How the state addresses human suffering will always be debated, but personal attitudes should undergo soul searching. If it’s easy to fall into a trance of apathy regarding shootings and rampant addiction, how much easier is it to shun petitioners for somehow bringing misfortune upon themselves? Or is caring for other people an impersonal category, like paying into welfare?
Our compartmentalized society can pose conundrums between institutional expediency and personal ethics. Let’s remember the whole, individual person -- as the medieval monks tried to do -- and not just the compartmentalized problems they represent.
I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.