Every now and then I come across someone who tells a story of how they helped someone in need and how ungrateful the recipient (usually a beggar) was. The indignation of the giver can be summed up by the idiom, “beggars can’t be choosers”. But is this idiom helpful? I don’t think it is. Everyone can choose. Free will is a precious gift given to all people and intrinsic to human dignity. If we take away someone’s choice then we have moved away from respectful engagement. Everyone is entitled to saying no.

I think the idiom, “beggars can’t be choosers” is a way for powerful people to control others through limiting choices and diminishing their dignity. In the most recent example this saying was used by someone who got angry at a poor person who refused food with an expired label. The poor person chose not to be demeaned by receiving expired food. I think the person’s choice not to receive old food is a step towards dignity. Development is after all an exercise in giving people the ability to choose, to give them the freedom to choose the kind of life they want to live.

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