The Homeless Man Ethical Dilemma: Here’s My Answer!
I recently saw an interesting ethical dilemma involving two different people who helped a homeless person in vastly different ways.
Who’s the more “Godly” helper? That’s the purpose of an ethical dilemma regarding two people who actually decide to take action for a homeless man.
I saw the question in a friend’s Facebook post. I don’t know where it originated, but here, essentially, is how it goes:
A homeless person sits on the sidewalk, obviously hungry and distraught.
One man walks by looking at the homeless man with derision and condescension, but stops and gives the man $100 and the address for a shelter.
A few minutes later a second man stops at the homeless person and sits down and offers kind words and prayers and gives him $1.
Which of the two is the Godly man? Or are they both virtuous?
The original version asked which of the two is the “goodly” man, an archaic use that implies admirable. Because it’s no longer a commonly-used phrase, and because I think they may well have meant “Godly,” that’s what I used.
I’m sure there’s more than one version of this going around social media. There almost always is.
A tale of two good Samaritans
There are two real issues at play here.
The first issue is the level of disdain with which the two men approach the situation. The first clearly has a high level of it. The second doesn’t seem to.
The second issue is the level of assistance the passersby actually provide. The man who has a more hostile view of the situation provides more monetary assistance. The other man provides a greater emotional and spiritual kind of support.
I suspect we’re supposed to fall into a trap of deciding based on religious grounds. I’m sure that’s how many will interpret the situation.
The second man, who took the time to pray with the homeless man, will likely get a lot of the credit. Maybe he should, despite the fact that you can’t do much of anything these days with $1.
As presented, the dilemma doesn’t specify how much money both men have on their person at the time. Maybe it would change things if we knew that both men had $100 with them. It might also change our perception if we knew that both men gave the total amount they had on their person.
But based on the scenario as presented, we don’t have those answers.
The first man, who gave 100 times the money to help the homeless man, entered the scenario with what we are led to believe is a bad attitude. But this man managed to set aside that disgust and transform it into action to actually provide real assistance in giving the man a considerably higher amount of money and referring him to a place where he could get even additional assistance.
But the second man, on the surface, seems to have demonstrated more compassion, taking the time to pray with the man. If you believe, as many Christians like me do, that prayer can accomplish a great deal, you might even think the act makes up for the other $99.
That’s up to you, of course.
For me, I don’t see any simple way to answer the question. Based on what I see, I can’t easily rank either man ahead of the other. Each helped, which is a good thing. But each helped in such different ways that it’s not easy to say which is the better man.
As most of us know, no two people have the same talents. In spiritual circles, pastors like to talk about the concept of spiritual gifts. Some people, for example, excel at serving while others excel at hospitality. Some are good at praying with others while others seem to be much better at problem solving and planning.
If the first man’s spiritual gifts were more in the area of problem solving and the second man’s spiritual gifts were more in line with prayer and compassion, each one put his own gifts to work to help the man in the way they were most able to do so.
We don’t know, for example, that the first man didn’t take to heart the Biblical instructions to pray in private and go and quietly spend time in prayer in his own home for the man he’d given money to. He might even have spent more time in prayer than the man who stopped to pray with the homeless man did.
If this had ever been a true scenario, I would like to believe we’d want to celebrate both men for taking the time to do anything at all. There are plenty of us who’d walk right without providing any kind of support.
Sometimes, it’s better not to split hairs about those who do choose to help those in need.
Sometimes, it’s better to wonder why more of us don’t.