The Empathy Tax

I had to deal with this today. And I have to deal with it at least a few times a week. And that is someone asking me for my money. “Hey, I need to eat, can you spare some change?” “Hey I need to catch the bus, do you have some change?” “I’m travelling between towns/jobs, can you spare some cash?” Speaking of which: I’m an unrepentant size XXL Dick; what do you think I said?

I live pretty close to and work in a major metropolitan city in the U.S. (I’ll let you figure out which city that is.) And in every major city in every state, or every major province if you don’t live in the U.S.A., you will run across the same kind of people: the homeless, the beggars, the mentally ill on the street, and the nonprofit and charity people championing for many people like them.

You may be prepositioned on the street on the fly by a person with a cardboard sign, or a pamphlet; maybe it’s at the checkout line at the local grocery store or pharmacy that has those paper blimps or hearts or other shaped posters you can write your name on if you give a dollar to the cause. Maybe someone will position themselves to approach you ‘naturally’ as you get into or out of your car or on and off your bike, to ask if you have some change for the bus, or that they’re hungry and just want a few cents to buy some chicken nuggets or fries from the local fast food place.

Maybe it’s a commercial, whether its on TV, Netflix, a YouTube ad, or anything like it, where it tells you the plight of some group of people, children, or even animals and pets, all of which are suffering. They also share how convenient it would be to send them money to help them out. “For less than a cup of coffee a day, you can help out the x_______!” “If you give your time at x________ volunteer center, you can make a difference in some kid’s lives'” “For $x___ a day, you can help get Sarah McLaughlin to stop making you suicidally depressed!”

Let me help categorize all of this time, money and energy spent in this way for you: its called the Empathy Tax. To give you a textbook definition: Empathy Tax: a part of your income you pay to people you believe need your money more than you do. If you live in the U.S.A., or any other place that demands a part of your income to pay for things, you should be familiar with this concept. In this case, it is directly dependent on your empathy for other people. It appeals to your sense of charity, and caring for other people, in a way that does not benefit you personally. It requires you to think about the well being of others and how you can help them benefit in the short term using your own resources, whether or not that takes away from your own welfare.

I’ll make this message plain: you NEVER need to pay this tax. Let’s make this clear: when you give your money away, you are giving away your time. Your time that you spend putting in work to earn that money, which you accept so you can use it to buy the goods and services that are made with other peoples time, in a way that makes your remaining time more enjoyable. When you give in to this tax, aside from that feeling you “helped” someone else, you are giving up some of your ability to make your life awesome, or even better, the life of someone else you actually care about.

Again, the empathy tax is not an official federal tax. You don’t need to pay this. The one thing keeping you from paying this are your emotions and, well, empathy (hey, that’s where the name comes from!) Your sympathy and empathy is what forces you to give that guy “some change”, or that Education Activist group a dollar on top of your grocery bill. It’s merely a cut of the income you have that you’re, frankly, coerced into giving away. Income you could’ve used to go to that national park, or that gourmet restaurant, or whatever you want to experience in your one shot at life. Or hell, money you could use to help family or friends you actually know that could legitimately use the help!

I’m not saying any of this to demonize empathy or kindness, or convince you to never be a caring person or donate to any cause; if I wanted to do that I’d talk about all the organizations and people that are charlatans and profitting off you. If you want to give someone your money, good for you. But at the end of the day, you have control of where your money goes, and unlike social security, or Medicare, you have control over this tax; whether you pay it is entirely up to you. Though keep in mind: unless you paid a specific organization and asked for a receipt, it isn’t even tax deductible. So if you’re going to pay people based on your feelings, at least make it a write off!

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