Discernment

Do providers show good judgement in giving help on an individual basis, based on individual needs?

"Intelligent giving and intelligent withholding are alike true charity," the New Orleans Charity Organization Society declared in 1899. "If drink has made a man poor, money will feed not him, but his drunkenness." Poverty fighters a century ago trained volunteers to leave behind a conventional attitude toward the poor, seeing them through the comfortable haze of their own intentions. Barriers against fraud were important not only to prevent waste but to preserve morale among those who were working hard to remain independent: "Nothing is more demoralizing to the struggling poor than successes of the indolent."

Bad charity also created uncertainty among givers as to how their contributions would be used, and led to less giving over the long term: It was important to "reform those mild, well-meaning, tender-hearted, sweet-voiced criminals who insist upon indulging in indiscriminate charity." Compassion was greatest when givers could "work with safety, confidence, and liberty." Today, lack of discernment in helping poor individuals is rapidly producing an anticompassion backlash, as the better-off-unable to distinguish between the truly needy and the grubby-grabby-give to neither.