Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Begging answer - do unto others

Beggars are an embarrassing reminder of how the council has failed. Photo / Doug Sherring
Beggars are an embarrassing reminder of how the council has failed. Photo / Doug Sherring

In uncertain times, we must cling to what certainties we can. Like the fact that, this week, yet again, a few people are raising awareness - of themselves - by sleeping out and not improving the plight of the city's homeless.

And the council is having another crack at beggars.

Do we even have beggars, really? Isn't a beggar someone who asks for money? As far as I can discern, the shiftless mendicants of this metropolis are incapable of even that much effort. They clog our footpaths in the apparent belief that the lotus position and an upturned hat are a money making machine. Is a cheery "Gizza buck" too much to expect before I hand over the expected shekels?

One of the few useful pieces of wisdom ever imparted to me is that if you want something from someone you should offer them something in exchange.

Real beggars know this. I practically forced money on the ingenious ne'er-do-well who sidled up to me in a foreign land and slurred, "Do you need any simple directions?"

He has been my role model since. Not only was he willing to provide a service in return for my donation, he was also clearly aware of and working within his limitations - hence the qualification "simple".

Buskers also understand this. Most buskers are just beggars with an act. I would sooner see the streets cleared of buskers than beggars. The beggars, at least, don't make that godawful noise.

And I don't understand how the police can say that hoovering up the moochers will reduce crime. Surely if they're begging outside shops they're not burgling houses. It keeps them on the streets, you might say.

But I don't think that the Auckland Council commissioners who want to ban begging came to this conclusion because they don't like the way today's indigents go about the job. I think they came to it because they have lost the plot. They do not recognise that no one wants to beg; that the reason people do so is that we live in a society that is conducive to penury. We live in a society that encourages winners to take all and beggars to take what they can get.

What the commissioners and those who agree with them really object to is the reminder of society's failure. The council's job is partly to foster a prosperous community. Beggars are a reminder it has not done so, and therefore it is embarrassed by them.

The very use of the objectifying word "them" is part of the problem. Beggars are not "them". They are us, in a true Christian sense - members of the same community and we should do unto them as we would have anyone do unto us.

The notion that "if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to be worried about" as a justification for government spying on citizens is still widespread, despite the best efforts of Kim Dotcom and others at the GCSB hearing. The German and French governments obviously don't feel this way - they are taking action against the United States for spying on them. But in New Zealand there are plenty of people who are good with that.

Perhaps we need a new analogy.

Let's look at it this way. Imagine it's 10.30 in the morning and you are at home when the mail arrives. You walk out to your letterbox to find a stranger has got there first and is reading your mail. How do you feel? Because that is what you are approving when you say you don't mind if someone you don't know has access to your communications.

- Herald on Sunday

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