The conservative Southern California town of Simi Valley is considering a ban on public panhandling. It might not seem too radical on the surface. It's a business move that many communities have considered to decrease the number of beggars in front of businesses, and Simi Valley says it's a necessary safety measure to keep panhandlers from approaching vehicles and to keep them out of public thoroughfares.
But it also effectively makes it illegal for the destitute to seek alms publicly. It's a move that further marginalizes those who exist on the edges of society, putting an ugly and uncomfortable part of modern life out of sight and, in turn, out of mind for many people.
But the sight of those in need and passing them by without helping is uncomfortable for a reason — the empathy we feel for others is an important part of societal living, and it's one of the driving factors that makes people think of others instead of just themselves. By pushing further into the shadows those who rely on the generosity of others for a meager existence, we shield ourselves from the discomfort of having our empathy triggered, and we make it easier to make life choices that are essentially self-centered.
It's easier to ignore the poor and needy when we can't see them. And, as many will say, if we can't see the problem, it must not exist.