Giving While Getting Nothing Back Can Be Cool

Sometimes it’s cool to give without getting anything back.

I had an experience this week where I was in a part of downtown off my beaten path. As I walked down the sidewalk, I approached a scene where two people appeared to be arguing. As I got closer, it was clear that it was more like one person yelling at another.

From I what I was able to put together at that moment, it was a homeless guy being shooed away from the front of a restaurant. The guy seemed to be telling him to get out of there and go someplace else. This was directed toward the homeless person in a very irritated, hostile tone. Maybe the sight of the homeless person on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant would impact business? Perhaps that was the worry.

The thing is, the homeless guy looked older, and it’s still not really warm around here. Besides, why treat someone so poorly, especially when his life is clearly so hard. There has to be a better way to accomplish the goal.

I was irritated at the yeller, so I pulled out my wallet to give the homeless guy $1. Well, I didn’t have a $1 bill. The smallest bill was $5. I immediately thought of walking away, but then I just gave him the $5 and said “here sir, have a nice day” before proceeding.

Unfortunately, that restaurant jackwagon didn’t see it. If he did, it would have been great.

Nevertheless, something good came of it and I learned something: it’s cool to give when you get absolutely no benefit or credit for it.

Yep, I’ll probably never see the guy again. Nobody saw me give him money (as far as I know). I’ll never get any direct or indirect benefit for that $5, nor will anybody I know. Nobody will ever give me credit for giving that money to the guy. The restaurant guy won’t feel burned by seeing me give his homeless opponent money.

In short: that $5 spent will never provide any direct or indirect benefit to me. Ever. It’s gone for good, and a total stranger will benefit from my hard work.

The thing is, it feels great. It’s not for everyone, which is cool. The choice to give, or not to give, is personal in the first place.

But for me, I’ve discovered that giving while receiving zero benefit or credit – in other words, no “boomerang” effect – can be even better sometimes. When there’s no “thank you” email to read, or no tax deduction to be gained, it seems more pure in some ways.

Of course, I’m talking about it here, so I suppose that “purity” is now gone. Fair enough, I can’t dispute that. But it was there for a while though, and it was enjoyable.

How about you? Do you ever give to strangers in need like that, or anonymously, knowing there will be no indirect benefit to you?


  1. says

    There are a couple intersections around Detroit where there is always a homeless person. At Christmas, I gave someone a 20 dollar bill as I pulled to a stoplight. Another time I gave someone a 5 dollar bill. However, the next time I saw the guy I gave 5 bucks to, he was smoking! I just kept thinking about my money being spent on a pack of Luckies.

    Lesson: If you are going to beg for money, hide the fact you drink or smoke!

    • Squirrelers says

      Everyday Tips – That’s nice of you to give generously like that. I know what you mean about getting burned though, as I’ve seen a guy I know give some money to a homeless guy, only to see that individual in a bar later.

  2. says

    I bet it probably felt like a good way to ‘spend’ $5. There’s just something about giving anonymously or randomly that helps bring people back to the realization that the small things make all the difference.

    Even though you didn’t get anything in exchange from the homeless person, you felt a feeling of satisfaction or enjoyment in your giving. Sometimes that’s worth more than the cost of the gift!

    • Squirrelers says

      Tim – thanks for stopping by. I see it the way you do – that feeling of satisfaction in giving can be great. When anonymous it’s even better, for me anyway. Not that this small instance is anonymous anymore :)

  3. says

    I had a memorable experience many years ago similar to this. I was downtown and walking into a fast food restaurant to buy lunch. There was a homeless guy holding the door open for people and asking politely if someone would buy him a sandwich. I asked him what type of sandwich he wanted and he told me a grilled chicken sandwich.

    Even though I was making very little money as a volunteer on a stipend at that time I liked the fact that his request was specific and actionable, so I told him I would buy him a sandwich. It wasn’t going to cost me too much extra as the sandwich was just over $2 at that time. When I walked away from the counter I saw a restaurant employee trying to hustle him out and he was saying that he was going to be eating there. I walked up to them and presented the guy his sandwich on a tray. He thanked me and then went to sit down, while I continued out the door with my takeout order.

    The odd ending to this story is that the next day when I came into my office I found $2 laying under my desk. I asked around thinking someone dropped it out of their pocket, but no one had been by my desk (which was located in an out of the way section of the office) for a few days other than me. So, I got most of the cost of the sandwich returned to me in this mysterious way.

    • Squirrelers says

      Linda – good to hear from a fellow Windy City resident….though I’m in the suburbs myself:) Anyway, that’s a really neat story you told. The boomerang was at work – you gave, and it came back to you. It’s funny how karma works in mysterious ways :)

  4. says

    We have a pretty big homeless problem where we live. I don’t give cash to homeless, but will try to buy them food instead. There are a bunch of homeless kids (young and healthy) from all over the country here and they are pretty aggressive panhandlers. It is getting to the point where suburbanites avoid coming downtown to shop because they don’t want to deal with the homeless population. They sleep in the shops doorways and employees and shop owners have to clean up after them. Yes, I’m talking about bodily fluid and solid here. A lot of the young ones have attitude, drug and/or mental problems and it’s just tough to be sympathetic when you have to deal with them every day. I will try to help the older homeless folks more.

    • Squirrelers says

      retirebyforty – some of the folks to which you’re referring here are those that I am less likely to feel the same need to give to. The young, healthy folks are not in need like the old people, that’s for sure! Older, less healthy folks get my attention. By the way, I forget where you live, now I have to check your site to refresh my memory.

  5. says

    I sometimes give to the homeless. It depends on how much change I have, or even if I can get it out in time at the traffic light. I once asked this guy if he smoked. He said, sure. So I handed him an extra corona i happened to have with me. The look on his face was priceless. Looked like he appreciated it more than the couple bucks I had laid on him. Or maybe that’s how I remember it.

    • Squirrelers says

      101 Centavos – that’s actually kind of funny about the priceless look. Unfortunate, but it is what is, right?

  6. moxie says

    If someone is begging on the street, there’s a reasonable chance they might smoke or drink. Hell, if I were homeless I’m sure I’d have my vices too. So you think the homeless guy with a hard life shouldn’t have a perfectly legal cigarette because you think it’s a bad habit and he could have used that money more wisely? Get off your freaking high horse. If you want to control how people use your charity, get your warm fuzzies by giving food or clothes and not impulsively handing off some cash.

    • Squirrelers says

      Moxie – wow, did somebody get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? I never would have predicted that a story about giving some cash to a homeless person would evoke a random, visceral response. Oh well.

  7. says

    At least once a week, and as recently as last night. The person looked like a teen to me but he said he is 27 years old. He was sitting hunched on the sidewalk near a Walgreens with a sign that said “Homeless, hungry, hoping.” I bought him a sandwich and talked with him for a few minutes.
    Fairly frequently there are people selling Real Change, the homeless-produced newspaper, outside that Walgreens. As I go in I ask if I could bring them out a snack or a drink. The most-requested drink is a can of iced tea; the most-requested snack, a bag of chips. One man told me that potato chips keep him warm. I guess it’s the fat content; if I were sleeping outside, I’d prefer bacon to romaine, that’s for sure.
    I do give people money when I can, but sometimes I simply don’t have cash.

    • Squirrelers says

      Donna – we all just do what we can, if we have no cash it’s hard to give. Good point on the fat content, never really thought about that aspect of giving certain types of food.

  8. says

    It really is good to give. Thanks for your Pledge!

    I give every month anonymously. Good to help others, and with our Yakezie Writing Contest, our Network as a whole can support someone out there.

    I love how we are helping out one of our winners Katharine in her college decision!

    Cheers, Sam

  9. says

    I had a panhandler ask my from money because he was hunger. Well I just came out of a restaurant and handed him my boxes of untouched chinese food, explaining to him that they were untouch. He said he would rather have money (lol).

    That said, I know exactly what you mean. As a kid, I would get offended if I didn’t get a thank you or a nod for my actions, but now I do it just to help. Even if I am anonymous.

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