To judge or not to judge?

10 Apr

Today I have been approached by two different people on the street, asking me for 2 dollars. In both cases, I asked some questions before making a decision. The first man was an Indigenous Australian in his 40s, the second was a young caucasian male in his early teens. I gave an apple to the first man, and 2 dollars to the second. I felt good about my first choice, but I felt stupid about my second. What is this all about?

The first man asked me for 2 dollars, and I asked him why. He said he wanted to buy himself a beer. I appreciated his honesty, but I told him I wouldn’t give him money for that reason, because beer is “bad for you”. He was pretty clear that if I gave him money, he would spend it on alcohol. I did have some food, however, slightly more than I needed for my lunch. I then told him I would give him some food, since we all need some food, and if he was so struggling for money it would certainly help him.

He took the apple, then asked me for some spare change 🙂 I just smiled at him and said: “You’ll be alright”. He smiled too, put his thumb up and said “Cheers, mate” and walked off.

Later on, when getting off the train, a young teenage boy with long dyed blonde hair turned around towards me and asked me for 2 dollars “for the train”. That sounded legitimate enough, so I started looking for change in my bag. While doing this, I decided to ask him some questions:

“Did you not bring enough change with you?”


“Did you not bring enough change with you?”

“Ha. No…”

“Where are you going?”

“I dunno. Perth…”

By that time I knew he was lying, but I had already handed him the two dollars, and it took a few more seconds for me to realise how I had been conned. So I just kept on walking, and he seemed to follow me. I then spotted him, as I looked behind me, stopping another person asking for money. He was then hailed by a group of 4 teenagers, one of whom yelled out:

“Hey, stop scabbing, you little rat!”.

If you want to know why I gave the money to that young liar, the answer is fairly simple: I’ve always been told not to judge people, and if someone asks for something, you give even if you don’t believe they are genuine.

As I reflected on this, I decided that this “doctrine” was incorrect. We’re taught not to judge the circumstances of people in need, and not to judge how they got there. However, we must judge people’s sincerity, and whether or not we can afford to give. Imagine the following scenario:

A man stops you on the street, and asks you for $100, saying that he needs it to buy some medicine for his dying mother. You happen to have that some of money with you, which you were keeping “for a rainy day”. Now, I challenge you to make a decision without judging this person’s sincerity and your own ability to afford giving away that sum of money. If you were convinced that the person was lying, how would you justify giving the money? So you could tell yourself that you have done “the right thing”?

What if another man stops you, and asks for $100, but this time you have no doubt whatsoever of the sincerity of that person, and you no longer have that money to spare? Would you consider your first choice to have been “the right thing” to do?

No, you would have acted unwisely. I was wise enough to ask the teenager some questions, hoping to test his sincerity, but I was unwise to give him the $2. Next time something like this happens, I will ask more questions, such as:

“How much does it cost to go to Perth from here?”

“How much money do you have already? Can I see it?”

“Where do you live? Why do you want to go to Perth? Is it urgent?”


Any hesitation in answering these questions would increase my confidence that the person is lying, and once I am sufficiently confident, I will be bold and say:

“I don’t believe that you really want to use my money to buy a train ticket. Have a good day, bye.”

If anyone disagrees with me, please comment, I would love to get your opinions 🙂

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Posted by on April 10, 2010 in Life, Musings, Religion


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