Instinct, or lack thereof
I’ve been thinking about a lot of different things this past week-- about poverty, inequality, cruel injustices, and my own privilege-- and I have been having trouble articulating answers to any of these thoughts. For example, here I find myself more resistant to people asking for money on the street than I am in Seattle. Reflecting on this, I feel guilty. How can I come to India, claiming to want to learn how to help people, and become more stingy, not less? How can I strive to tackle grand challenges, yet ignore small, immediately improvable concerns right in front of me?
Of course, money and resources are limited and it is important to consider where and how they are best spent. But from my point of view, where 100 rupees (1.40 USD) means essentially nothing, why am I resistant to giving away something that means little to me, but could mean a lot to someone else? At what point do high-lofted ideas get in the way of simple kindnesses?
In Seattle, where homelessness is considered a big issue, I have at times given away my takeout food, offered small amounts of money for shelter, and once given away a blanket on an especially cold night. But in India, I don’t know how to react to the urgency and sometimes physicality with which people beg for money and food. The persistent and invasive requests make me want to shut down, and I am full of the impulse to avoid all eye contact and completely ignore these requests. But in the US we talk a lot about how harmful and dehumanizing it is to ignore homeless people, and so I feel confused and unsure. Here, poverty and difficulty look so different than they do in the US, and I find that I cannot rely on intuition to understand a situation.
I have noticed that locals are far more likely to give a small sum of money when asked than most in our GCIL group have been. When I asked Arman about this, he offered an explanation about instinct and cultural understanding. He described a sort of instinct that locals develop regarding panhandlers. As we walk, right after he hands some rupees to a small girl asking for help with school dues, he mentions the story of a beggar in India that gained so much money that he bought a Rolls Royce. I decide that I like his description of instinct. I don’t know if anyone has the always-right answer to these tough questions, but through experience we can certainly come to a better answer.
In India, with these panhandlers-- like with many things-- relying on my immediate instinct may be failing me. And like with many things, I hope I can improve my reactions in the future. The next time I find myself faced with these situations, may I react differently and-- I hope-- for the better.