Did you know that Sweden is one of the few countries in the EU where begging is not illegal? A so-called ‘begging crackdown’ came into force in 2011 which criminalized the activity. Beggars on the streets of Swedish towns are becoming more and more common and I, amongst others, have a difficult time deciding what to think about this. On the one hand, we’ve all heard about the gangs of beggars and the organization of donation gathering as a source of income for the gang leaders. On the other hand, there is the individual person sitting on the street freezing in the November rain.
A good friend of mine made a very helpful comment recently that enabled me to reflect over my feelings and I wanted to share that with you. This is what he initially wrote on FB, which created quite a debate (I have loosely translated it into English):
‘There she sat, in the rain. Outside Coop. With her cup and her threadbare clothes. And I stepped out of my car and searched impatiently in my wallet amongst my gold ten krona coins to pay for a trolley. Have to swap this cash, I thought. This wallet’s so heavy with all this loose change. So…..impractical. That’s what I thought. When I walked past her. Without looking. In the rain. Because you know that it’s organized crime. I’m not going to contribute to that. No. So I went shopping, as you do on a Friday. A little bit of Brie from the deli counter, which melts in the mouth. And some other nibbly bits to eat in front of the open fire this evening as the rain beats against the window pain. Have a cosy Friday. The woman at the till was happy to receive all my change, I got a 100 krona bill in exchange. I throw my items into my bag and walk out to the carpark. And there she sits. I stop. I think. I question myself. What kind of person am I? I take the bill out of my wallet and put it in her cup. Where it belongs. I’ve got enough, unlike her. And she still doesn’t.’ (Calle Mikelsens)
This comment on Facebook caused a debate about begging in Sweden and whether Swedish people should accept it or ignore it. In order to explain his point of view, my friend Calle, added another comment which changed my perspective on the issue. This is what he wrote:
‘My reason is clear. I believe in the meeting between people. That I can do what I can but at the same time understand my limitations. Sometimes ten kronor or a hundred krona bill can make a big difference. I don’t want to limit myself by thinking globally but I want to instead do something. We can’t solve poverty with charity. We solve it through political action and taking a stand. But we can, along the way, help those who are at risk of falling. And feel anger every time we put money into the collection tins. I am, despite my naivity, not convinced that a political shift will eradicate world starvation. That requires a larger movement. But I feel that there is a wind of opposition sweeping over the world despite the greed and the grabbing. I have to do what I can on my small scale. That’s where I have to begin…’
So, it’s all about each of us making a choice. Do we want to look at the global perspective, in which the individual often gets lost? Or do we want to look at the local perspective, and understand that what we choose to do, or not to do, can have an impact on another person’s life?