Novena Dilemma

by Ian Finian Heng, on his blog
3 March 2006

If you go to Novena on Saturdays, you will find that on your way from the MRT to the church, there are many hawkers along the way. And when I say 'hawkers', I do not mean the ones who sell food. Instead, they sell other items.

You must be thinking, 'What hawkers? I thought there were only beggars?' But you see, these people are not begging for money. They are providing a service. At least, this is the way I see it.

Typically, the moment you leave the MRT station, the entrances are noticeably infested with dozens of students carrying tin cans for flag day. As you go up the escalator and exit the glass door, there is a man on a wheelchair selling Big Sweep tickets. Just before the newspaper stand is a busker who plays the guitar.

Along the path can be found can-carrying students. There is this blind man who peddles tissue. 4 for a dollar. He sings Marian hymns while hawking his wares. So he's like holding the nightstick in his left hand and holding some plastic packets in his right, while singing 'I hear the bells, of Mary's Ave ringing. Joy to my heart, like angels' voices singing..'

Towards the bus stop can be found more innocent students. On a bad day, you can see some commercial entities who carry charity work for commission. You know, those guys who ask 10 dollars for a ticket? Capitalistic bastards.

At the foot of the staircase is another blind man with a middle aged woman, presumably his wife. Formerly he used to sell Tai Sun Peanuts (2 packets for a dollar), but now he sells pens. The lady carries a NYP Open House 2006 paper bag. Last Saturday I didn't see the man and his wife. Instead there was a new arrival; a middle aged woman peddling tissue. 4 for a dollar.

After you go up the staircase, there will be another middle aged woman along the path. She has white hair and glasses. She sells tissue, 4 for a dollar. Pleas sound out from her, 'Please help me, please help me.' On some days she gives you more packets at the same price.

What is the problem now? We have 1 big sweep man, 1 busker, 3 tissue sellers, 1 peanut/pen man and wife, X number of flag day students, Y number of con jobbing money hijacking profiteers.

Are you going to help all of them? Ok, its all right not to pay the busker if you think his music sucks or his strumming is lousy. It's also all right not to entertain the machiavellians. We can also assume that we will only donate to one lucky student, most likely the convent girl with the shortest skirt. So that leaves us with 1 big sweep man, 3 tissue sellers, 1 peanut/pen couple, 1 flag day student.

Are you going to buy 12 packets of tissues, big sweep tickets, peanuts or writing instruments, things which you don't really need? Yet if you help them they will be so thankful.

What a dilemma.


irene said...

i just wanna say, pls don't just accuse these people of wanting to profit from you. sometimes they have no choice but to do that. knowledge from my first hand experience of being a can-carrying/flower-selling student and an exploited ticket selling salesperson.

Norman said...

No easy solution, I think.

At Novena, I usually solve this dilemma by buying when in need, or what I could use later. So I don't get myself too many tissue-paper packets, and I'll just get a couple of packets of peanuts. But the dilemma always pops into my mind when I walk past such a seller, could be anywhere, Orchard underpass or Clementi MRT, always have to make a split-second decision to buy or not. Then it is always very irritating to be stopped frequently by more than one seller of the charity tickets. It is a challenge to remain polite in these cases, especially if they are persistent.

war in the pocket said...

Dear Irene,

That's why it's such a dilemma. You know that it is a good thing to help those in genuinely in need, but it is not a good thing to entertain cheats.

Of course remembering the biblical injunction of "if someone slaps your right you must offer your left", it perturbs our conscience even more.

Decisions derision...

P.S I've done my share of flag days and ticket selling...=)

Moses said...

Hi all,

whenever i see a begger this quote always pops into my mind "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you'll feed him for life" but the ting is wat do we teach him? I mean it is alrite to give to those who sells things as they are officially selling and not begging to i guess it is alright not giving them the $$ just that we would buy from them their goods another time as they are doing a business (well thats just my justification) but as for those beggers i tend to be more harsh on them especially those who sit there and do nothing(those healthy ones) as they want people to pity them and give them $$ but they are too proud to ask for asisstance from proper channels or find a job. (again it is just my justification) i don't know, i maybe wrong in such thinking but at least i won't have such dilemas lingering in my mind when i sleep

(what i have said does not apply to those people doing flag day they are genuine that i am sure)

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

A priest once told me, we are not obliged by the Gospel to help everyone, but we are obliged to help. There should be no guilt in our heart so long as we are conscious of the needs of others and respond with compassion.

After all, we don't perform acts of charity to assuage our nagging conscience, but because we are prompted by love.

Cultivate the virtues, grow in charity and the response comes naturally, not as a dilemma to be faced!