The pizza experiment – to give or not to give

We all have an opinion on beggars. You know the guys at the intersection that walk up to your car and ask for money. Almost everyone has seen these guys (and girls) and said or thought, “If they can get themselves here every day and pace back and forth interacting with people for this many hours, surely they could get a job.” and “If people keep giving them money for doing nothing, then we are just enabling them so they don’t have to get a job” and “they are probably going to just blow this on alcohol or drugs.” At the same time, we respect and admire people that we see giving.

On the other hand, I’ve heard people state that the net worth of the person begging at the street corner is higher than most of the people that they are begging for, because most of the “beggars” have at least a few dollars net worth and most of the “givers” are swamped in debt and have massive negative net worth.

This experiment does not reveal any scientifically relevant information. My first thought is that there are only two classes of people that were experimented on. There are people that look homeless by their appearance, and there are people that don’t look homeless. You never know; some of the first people asked that said “no”, might be just as homeless as the last guy. My second thought is that if you asked enough people that don’t look homeless, you would find a few that would give without hesitation, and if you asked enough people that look homeless, you would find quite a few that wouldn’t share.

But don’t take that as being cynical. I love this kind of demonstration, because it raises questions and gives place to talk about meaningful stuff.

Money doesn’t change anything in life; it amplifies who you are. If you are greedy with the little that you have, you won’t become philanthropic when you win the lottery or sell your latest app to Google. If you have bad habits now, when you are not successful, then money will just give you the ability to really put yourself behind those bad habits in a professional way.

The question isn’t really about “those” rich people or poor people… it is always a question about “me”. What kind of person am I going to be? What will I do when someone asks me for something? If you watch that video and walk away shaking your head, but don’t make some decisions for yourself, then you have missed the point.

The good book says, give to people who ask expecting nothing in return, lend to anyone that asks and lend to people when you don’t expect to get paid back. It goes on to say that if someone steals from you, then track him or her down and offer more. This is some crazy advice, but it exposes who you are, and whom you trust.

This question came one day while we were stopped at a store getting Slurpees. A guy walked up to our van when we were getting ready to leave and asked if I had some money for food. I had just bought a snack with my Slurpee and offered him that – after all he was in need of food right?!? He declined the warm and tasty treat and asked again if I had any money. So I gave him what I had and chatted with him for a bit and I left with my family. My daughter asked me why I did that, pointing out that he obviously wasn’t looking for food. I said simply, “The Bible says, don’t judge and to give to those that ask.” Later that day, she sent me the video above and asked me to write about this.

There are two things that guide me here.

1) I trust God for what I need. He is a father, and a really good father at that. Fathers take care of their kids. It’s really just about that simple. If I don’t trust that He can handle getting me food when I need it, then how can I expect Him to do something far more urgent, like keep me from hell? If He says to give to people when they ask, then surely He won’t make me go without if I am lacking because of following His advice.

2) I once met a man. Once I looked at a homeless man in the eye and asked him his name. I sat on the sidewalk beside him and talked to him about his day. It made something painfully obvious to me. He was a man; not a homeless man – just a man. One of the things he said really changed my perspective. He said that the reason a lot of people (who happen to be without a home for the moment) buy alcohol with the money that they get is because it makes them warm on cold nights.

2b) A female druggy on a bike once stole my Palm Pilot. I was earning some extra cash while I was starting my business, pressure washing awnings with a friend. One evening I had taken off my jacket and left it by our supplies. A little while later as we worked our way down the mall, a girl on a bike with the look of the street and scabs from meth on her face rode past me and smiled at me as she rode by. My first thought was how much info was on my Palm Pilot that I needed for my business so I ran back to my jacket and sure enough, it was gone. It just so happened that a police cruiser was in the mall parking lot and I ran over to the cops and explained what had happened. After getting a description of the girl, they said they knew her and for sure she had been the one that had stolen it, then they took off after her. They came back to get me a few minutes later because they had caught her and believed that she had thrown the Palm Pilot in some bushes when she was running from them. Another police car was holding her for questioning and I got the rare chance to confront her directly. These cops had given her a really hard time and she was shaken. I told her that I would give her $20 if she would show me where she threw it and tried to be loving and kind. After her repeated denials we all got out of the cop car and I went back to my work, waiting to see if she would take me up on my offer of cash. I called my wife to let her know what had happened, and she said, “Your Palm Pilot is right here… I’m looking at it.”

I had judged the whole situation based on the fact that this girl who looked broken, had smiled at me. I had judged. Then I came face to face with the reality that my judgment was wrong, and it had put this girl – just a girl; not a homeless or druggy girl – through unnecessary hardship and pain. I was the villain, not the victim. I went looking for her to give her the reward anyway, mostly so that I could feel better about myself. I was never able to find her again, but I carried the $20 in my wallet for over a year. I also began to carry the resolve to not judge… not people who look broken… not people that look successful.

So, in conclusion, be a giver and don’t judge the receiver.

Check out this video:

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