Of course, you can pretend that giving nothing to beggars is kindness. But don't expect it to convince anyone.

In front of a mountainous landscape, a woman extends both arms.

Selling indifference as kindness is not the solution Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa

I recently attended a voice training course at the adult education center. I hoped it would give me a voice that could reach larger conferences and angry schoolchildren, but the course instructor gave me no false hope. “You have to practice a lot,” he said, and then we recited tongue twisters at breakneck speed. The course was packed, with women who wanted to overcome their nervousness when speaking and some men who seemed oblivious to the uncertainty. But maybe they just hid it very routinely.

There was also a young woman who worked with homeless people. She talked about how she once got involved when her boss was washing a homeless man's feet. This impressed her, it also impressed the singing students. But then the conversation turned to beggars and how to deal with them. One of the men said: I don't give them anything because they only spend the money on drugs. Once, the man said, he offered a beggar to buy some food together at the nearest store, but the beggar refused. The non-drug financier seemed satisfied, probably because of the clever setup of the experiment, its clarity and its coherence. Nobody objected.

I, too, remained silent and went out into the hallway of the adult education center, where I met the ethics board. The Ethics Council are three short older gentlemen who from time to time give me advice on practical ethics issues. The council was wearing something resembling pajamas and one of the normally silent members stepped forward, took a swinging step back and then forward, extending his right arm. “Defend yourself from the monkey,” shouted the president.

The silent member bowed and the council applauded. “Are you taking a course too?” I asked him. “We hope that Qi Gong will give us more mobility,” said the president. “And you?” “I'm working on my voice,” I said. But could you perhaps give me some argumentative suggestions?

Slow death in the bushes.

The council agreed and I described the thesis of non-pharmacological financing to them. “And it's true,” I said, “that sometimes you do things out of convenience that don't help anything, for example…” I thought about it. “For example, when I snatch half-dead birds from our cat: my conscience calms, but my compassion does not go so far as to take them to the vet. Instead, they slowly die in the bushes.”

I remained silent, the example was bad. “At first I thought I could counter the non-donor by saying he didn't offer an alternative, but I suspect he would then say: there are enough government agencies that care. And do more than just prolong drug addiction.”

The Ethics Council lined up in a row of three and began to chase away some invisible monkeys. “At this point we must remember Seneca's brand of progressive philosopher,” said the president of the council, defending himself from a monkey: “'He blames no one and does not talk about himself as if he knew or wanted to say something.'”

The president took a deep breath. “He does not insult our understanding by selling indifference as kindness.” He turned to me: “Describe the man he was talking about.” “Dark hair, beard,” I started and paused briefly. I have never seen the council so angry. “Surely you are familiar with Plutarch's ideas on how to overcome anger,” I said. “Sure,” said the president. “It's room 47,” I said. “The non-progressive is located on the extreme right.”