In this installment of “What Would You Do,” what you’d do if you overhear that a person is strapped for cash. Here’s Julie:
I pretty much have a blanket policy not to give money to people asking for it on the street, because I don’t know what they’ll use it for and I would rather give them food. (Or because I’m miserly and distrustful. It’s open to interpretation). But there have been a couple of instances, both train-related, when I have been eavesdropping on people in public places, like you do, and felt compelled to help them with the monetary woes they were talking about, even though it was kind of creepy of me.
The first time was when the train conductor told a girl farther up in the car that she didn’t have enough money to make it to her stop, and she’d have to get off at the next one. When the conductor got to me, I asked how much money she needed to get to her stop, and gave it to him.
The second time, I was eating in a McDonald’s in a train station, and I overheard a man on the phone who sounded like he was calling several different relatives, asking them to wire him $12 so he could buy a train ticket home. I also overheard him say he hadn’t eaten all day, so I gave him $15 so he could get a hamburger or something, too.
Julie’s actions are very kind, and I would like to believe that I’d do the same thing in those situations. I think I’m more sure about it in the situation with the young woman. With the man, I probably would have tried to strike up a conversation with him about his circumstances (if I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere). I would have wanted to take him to the counter to pay for his meal, and then walked with him to a booth to buy him a ticket. Like Julie, I feel a lot better about buying strangers something tangible than just giving them money. The thing is, when I’m riding the train, or eating takeout alone, I often have my headphones on, which means I might not have heard these conversations in the first place.