Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ghosts of Students Past

Today has been interesting. At one point I casually picked up the phone only to find a former student calling from Cairo. Incidently here's a link to his travel blog. Which hasn't been updated recently but is interesting nonetheless. I also finally got to reading an email from a former student who said:

I just thought of your class because yesterday was "homeless rememberance day" (or something of that nature...i usually accuse hallmark of trying to drum up sales w/ new holidays, but somehow I don't think they have a hand in this one!?!?!?). Anyway...I remember your question; do you buy the person a bananna or give them the dollar and let them (choose) buy the beer? The group that the article was about bought some care packages and handed them out to the local homeless.....wonder if the guy w/ a roll of toilet paper would have really rather had a beer????

Nice to know that my random musings affect people. Just to redeem myself slightly, the discussion was about how the government should deal with poverty and probably along the lines of the economists' concerns about giving food stamps versus cash transfers. Anyway, this line of thought was provoked by a discussion with a friend of mine who is Irish and a cultural studies professor at George Mason. Anyway, we were going to a movie and stalling for time at a gas station near the theater. Anyway, there was a homeless guy outside and I thought about giving him a banana from inside the store. She totally berated me and said I should just give him money instead.

Why should you decide the best way for him to use the money?

This is actually not obvious and quite interesting. On one hand, it is my money and I should have some say in what he does with it if I give it to him. Her point (I'm not sure if it is the "other hand") was all about thinking of it as "my" money. Instead, I should think about how it came to be my money and my (our) cultural issues about deservedness. This was fascinating to me and lead to a complete reinterpretation of the Irish in my mind. Anyway, she was saying, why should I consider myself to be more deserving of having a beer, say, rather than a banana, say, just because I had the kind of opportunities in my life that led me to have money and choices and he did not.

What an interesting reversal to the usual American line of thought: he obviously is a lazy %(*# and can't make the right decisions. I should give him a banana so that at least he gets something good in his body today. . . blah blah blah.

Anyway, that's where that came from, for better or for worse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If I were homeless, a beer (or bottle of vodka) could surely ease my mental and physical anguish! At least for an hour or so.

I lived once, for a short while, in a very poor African country. The value of the local currency was comical when compared to the dollar. When changing money in this country, it was impossible to do it legally in the bank because the bank itself did not have sufficient local currency to give- in exchange for say $100.00. Several times during my stay, things were stolen from me; money one time and a pair of shoes another. It becomes so interesting to process how to feel in this situation; when you have so much money by comparison - even though you are a non-earning undergrad. How can you feel bad and in fact, shouldn't you really just hand over all of your stuff and money and let someone get something to eat and have a break -even for a time? It's an interesting perspective, especially when you're living it firsthand.