Busted Halo
feature: moral dilemmas
September 14th, 2010

Moral Dilemma #1: The Banker and the Beggar


md1-beggarbanker-flashFew of us are ever faced with making the sort of life-or-death decisions we routinely hear about in the news. Fortunately, most of us are spared from navigating the complex ethical terrain that headline-making cases sometime raise. And yet there are decisions we face everyday that — whether we realize it or not — have very real moral implications.

In Busted Halo’s Moral Dilemmas feature, we hope not only to raise some of these issues for our readers, but also to engage you in helping to resolve them. After going through the story of Jason Pascal that follows, please tell us through a one-question quiz, linked to at the bottom of the page, what you think is the “right thing to do.”

Already taken the quiz for part 1? Move on to the next step: “The Wrinkle” to our Moral Dilemma.

Already read parts one and two? Read our Expert’s Analysis of the dilemma and your responses.

The Dilemma

Jason Pascal is a successful, 42-year-old investment banker living in New York City. Last February he was informed that he was going to be made a partner at the prestigious firm he has worked at for well over a decade. The promotion means that his annual income — which is already solidly in the mid-six-figure range — will now be tied to his investment bank’s profits, which could potentially bump his annual compensation into the millions.

To celebrate the good news Jason bought himself a pair of $800 shoes that he had been eyeing in a store window for weeks. After work, some of his colleagues took him out for drinks at Reidy’s, an upscale eatery in his company’s building. (Because they worked in such a high-stress environment Jason and a number of his co-workers often went out for drinks to unwind.)

What business did this bum have challenging him? Here he was working hard and earning an honest living and some guy who probably hasn’t had a job in decades is giving him grief!

After a number of rounds he decided to head home. Once he stepped outside he recognized that familiar feeling of being pretty buzzed and he began to stumble up the street, toting on his shoulder his new shoes, still in their bag. Just as he turned onto Fifth Avenue and stopped to admire the selection in the store window of another chic establishment, he heard a voice speaking to him from below.

“Hey, excuse me, think you could see clear to give me a little money?”

An older, balding man with a scraggly, graying beard sat right beneath the store’s display window and looked up at Jason.

“I’d appreciate anything you could spare” he added.

“No. Sorry. I’m kind of tapped out at the moment,” Jason said.

Jason hated when this sort of thing happened. Didn’t he have enough on his plate already with the long hours he worked and the child support and alimony payments to his ex-wife? (Even with the slight buzz he still had on, he couldn’t help but be steamed at the thought that a hefty percentage of his increased income would be going right into her bank account.) He was a generous man, he thought. Just after Christmas each year he wrote out checks totaling $1,000 to five different charitable organizations, including one that helped the homeless.

Make your choice here.
What’s The Right Thing To Do?

Click here to take survey

  • Give him some money?
  • Ask what he needed the money for?
  • Offer to buy the homeless man a sandwich or cup of coffee?
  • Call the police and ask that he be taken to a shelter?
  • Walk away?
  • None of these sound right to you? Write in your own response and comment on what you think Jason should do.

Read the results.

“Tapped out?” the homeless man snorted. “I see you’ve got some fancy shoes in that bag of yours and you’re already here looking for another pair! What the hell kind of tapped out is that! You’re telling me you can’t give me a couple bucks so I can keep warm tonight.”

Jason fumed. What business did this bum have challenging him? Here he was working hard and earning an honest living, and some guy who probably hasn’t had a job in decades is giving him grief! Keep warm? What was that code for? Sleeping in a shelter? Paying for a room in a flophouse? Or, worse, heading to the liquor store or some drug dealer to get high?

‘No, no way,’ he thought to himself. That’s why he gave to charity every year. At least with them he knows the money isn’t just going into a bottle or a bag of dope.

Jason looked closer and could see that the man was just wearing garbage bags for shoes and that his eyes were watering from the extreme cold and wind. His hands were chapped and when he coughed it sounded like a buzz saw was tearing through his chest. He wasn’t sure this guy would even make it through the night.

Time for you to decide. What’s the right thing for Jason to do?

Already taken the quiz for part 1? Move on to the next step: “The Wrinkle” to our Moral Dilemma.

You can take an updated look at the survey responses here.

Already read parts one and two? Read our Expert’s Analysis of the dilemma and your responses.

Pages: 1 2 3

The Author : Bill McGarvey
Bill McGarvey is co-author of Busted Halo’s Freshman Survival Guide. Bill was editor-in-chief of Busted Halo for six year. In addition to having written extensively on the topics of culture and faith for NPR, Commonweal, America, The Tablet (in London), Factual (Spain), Time Out New York, and Book magazine, McGarvey is a singer/songwriter whose music has been critically acclaimed by the New York Times, Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Billboard and Performing Songwriter. You can follow him at his website billmcgarvey.com or on Facebook.com/billmcgarvey
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • essaadi

    A banker and a poor beggar! The difference is huge!
    Two opposite and yet two tracks which are due to meet at the same crossroad : that of charity !
    Child, I learned to give charity. Even a tiny amount.
    And if I have nothing in my pocket, I say comforting words to the beggar. Never insult him or drive him away.
    Whenever I see a beggar, my heart weeps. Because I put myself in his place. Fate would have placed me in the same situation.
    I thank God to make me someone who puts his hand into the pocket to make a man happy!

  • Chris Brune

    @ Kristen – Surely not all bankers are swindlers. But when people are making the kind of money our hero is apparently making, with so little effort (witness the financial meltdown that has destroyed our economy while enriching a select few) one must be suspect. Wealth without work is one of Ghandi’s great moral evils.

    You are right that Mother Theresa would probably not drop a twenty in the guy’s lap and walked away. However, she would have understood that here is a fellow human being who is suffering, right now, and she would have done what she could to relieve that suffering.

  • Kristin

    @ Chris- First of all, assuming all bankers are swindlers is silly. Also, I think your two statements contradict each other. Mother Theresa would most certainly not have given the homeless man a $20 to spend as he saw fit. She would have brought him to a safe shelter (one of her own) given him a hot meal and made sure he got medical attention.

  • Chris Brune

    All this over-analysis is Pharisaical. It’s almost as if we are asking, “How little can I do and still feel good about myself?”

    First off, all the money the banker makes is probably gained through questionable means. In other words, he is screwing somebody out of something for his own profit. So he should not feel so high and mighty.

    The guy is hungry and cold right now. It is within the banker’s power to relieve that suffering with a $20 bill, probably less than he would spend on a round of drinks. He should give it, and never mind what the homeless man is going to do with it. If the money buys him some relief for a night, be it a flop-house room or a bottle of whiskey, so be it. None of the banker’s or our business. I don’t recall Jesus ever specifying a means test for our alms-giving.

    You want a simpler answer? Ask yourself, What would Mother Theresa have done?

  • lizziewriter

    Thanks for the story and survey. Now please post some info for us about what the experienced folks suggest (I don’t mean people writing studies in think tanks…. I mean people running food banks and outreach etc.)

  • Steve

    Good ol’ Jason’s $5,000 yearly donation to charity may be nice, but for someone who makes roughly $500,000, I think he could probably stand to give a little more than 1% of his income…

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