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The $50 Lesson

August 19, 2012

EDIT (8/20/12)  After re-reading this post I feel this post is a little unintentionally bias.  I was a little fired up due to events not contained in this post.  Feel free to comment or email me at and discuss it with me if you’d like.


Today, I was riding in a car with a group of people when we came up to a red light at an intersection and noticed to the left of us, two lanes over on the median there was an older man. He was holding up a sign that read,

“War Vet, please help.”

It reminded me of something I saw on Facebook this week, primarily from the politically conservative christian realm;

The $50 Lesson

Recently, while I was working in the flower beds in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they returned home from walking their dog. During our friendly conversation, I asked their little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?” She replied… “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed with pride! “Wow…what a worthy goal!” I said. “But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that!” I told her. “What do you mean?” she replied. So I told her, “You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I’ll pay you $50. Then you can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out and give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.” She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?” I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.” Her parents aren’t speaking to me anymore.


Hilarious, witty, and smart, but it’s also unintentionally insensitive, stereotypical, and judgmental.  It also (unintentionally) suggests that every homeless person is lazy and undeserving of our help.  It’s called Affirming the Consequent, or the Consequental Fallacy.  It’s a flawed order of retraced logic based on the incorrect idea that all facts and the order of those facts are symmetric.  Allow me to provide an example.

If Bill Gates owns Fort Knox, then he is rich.
Bill Gates is rich.
Therefore, Bill Gates owns Fort Knox.

Transposed onto this situation, it would be:

If a person is lazy enough, they’ll end up homeless.
This man is homeless.
Therefore, this man is lazy.

Overall, it’s a dangerous widespread generalization of the homeless.

It takes a pretty humble person to write out a cry for help on a cardboard box and hold it out to the world.  If indeed this man would be a try “con-man” he would be an awful one.  How much money does a person make holding up cardboard signs in an intersection?  $5?  $15 on a good day?  Read a little up on the Bystander Effect, it’s a phenomenon that when a person is in need in a public place, they often don’t get it as much as if they were in a much more secluded place.  Everyone assumes that “someone else” will help and because of that, no one helps.

There are a few truths that I can draw in order to see how I should react when I see this man holding a cardboard sign on the median of a highway.

I cannot give this man a job, I simply can’t.  Maybe this man already applied to many places of employment and kept getting rejected?  If that is true and I handed him an application to a bunch of restaurants I wonder what his reaction would be?

I can’t expect anyone else to give this man money, I cannot let my expectation of the crowd take precedent over the love I’m supposed to happen for a person.  Perhaps if everyone did that, than the Bystander Effect wouldn’t exist.

Homelessness isn’t a Political thing, it’s not something to argue about and polarize the opposite political party and demonize them for simply having a trust or mistrust in a much larger federal system.  It’s quite simply, a basic issue of human decency.

I cannot deny the existence of true unbridled laziness and when it comes to whether or not this man with the cardboard sign is lazy or truly in need,  simply put, I have no way of knowing.  However, if you think about it, it shouldn’t even matter.  I would rather give money to a lazy con-man thinking that he was truly in need than even remotely withhold anything from a person that really needed it.  The very idea that my preconceived judgment about a total stranger would prevent me from helping them straight up haunts me.  Even if it only means that they do not need to stand out in public and hold their sign, I’m glad I can help in any way.  If I was in so much need where I needed to go out and beg for money I would personally feel humiliated and like a failure.  Maybe it’s just my pride, but I do not even wish that amount of self-imposed guilt on anyone.

I guess the most terrifying thing about this issue is that the action of giving to the desperate poor has turned into a choice.  People reading that would probably disagree, but every time someone sees a homeless person and acknowledges their situation is one of need, they are faced with a choice of giving or not.  I personally am not the best at following this, but I want to get to a point where I will NEVER ignore someone holding a cardboard sign or pushing a shopping cart full of cans around.  I don’t want anyone to ever miss the opportunity to help someone else in need.

I didn’t intend to get political, but because the “$50 Dollar Lesson” did, but I feel compelled to now.  Liberals argue for high taxes because it provides more government incentives to the extremely poor.  As a result, conservatives argue for lower taxes and the only way to combat the accusation of cutting incentives to the very poor is to deem those incentives unjust due to those incentives going to those who simply “cheat the system”  This leads to the dangerous stereotype of the homeless population that is contained in the “$50 Dollar lesson.”

I’m so thankful that Jesus didn’t stereotype me (or anyone) like some are stereotyping those who are most in need.  Otherwise, Christ may have just told me to save myself.

Those are my thoughts,

Thank you for reading,

Take care and God bless,