Have you ever heard of Jonas Salk? No? Well. Ok…. What about Tim Berners-Lee? No? Hmmm…… Riiight…… What about Bob Geldorf? Oh! Yes! You know him don’t you? Band Aid, Live Aid, Feed the World! Yes, marvellous chap, boomtown rats, saved millions of lives, Got one of those funny nighthoods that Southern Irish people get. Brilliant bloke!
Whilst with hindsight, it has been argued that the legacy of live aid was much maligned by exploitation and money laundering on a vast scale, funding warlords and drug cartels all over Africa. It is the personal legacy of a dead wife and daughter that cause issue for me. Whilst it is impossible to say for sure the effect that Saint Bob’s constant world saving had on his family life, it certainly didn’t do it much good. Charity begins at home and all that.
Charity is always a tricky issue as is any activity where people wade in and try and ‘help’ without understanding the bigger picture. In fact, trying to fix anything you don’t understand often leads to disasters, from dodgy d.i.y to attacking the toaster with a screwdriver. Worse than that though, it can be addictive. It can be a heady feeling doing good all the time, constantly being praised and thought of as being a lovely person, when people are constantly being praised for all their good works they eventually buy into their own mythology. This can go wrong in various ways, the most common being where people start becoming self righteous, looking down at other people from their moral high ground, thinking they have the right to meddle in other people’s lives, ordering them about and eating into their time and resources. What can also happen is people become so used to and known for helping out that they never get a chance to have a life of their own with all the demands on their time. This is particularly common in those with low self esteem who end up putting the value of their own life way below that of other people. It’s also a marvellous way of avoiding sorting out one’s own life when you are busy fixing everybody else’s, the builders house syndrome, the better the builder, the bigger a tip their own home.
When you get a number of, what for sake of argument could be described as, habitual do gooders things really do start to get out of hand. Everybody starts believing everybody else’s hype and people get carried away with their own hair brained schemes and as groupthink becomes more common, the likelihood of someone stepping back and asking the logic, true worth and impact of what they are doing becomes less and less likely, plus as whatever starts to become a social thing as much as a helping thing it is possible to get sucked in beyond a point where the good intention has been lost and it just becomes that thing you do on a Thursday night. Groups also can start attracting people for the wrong reasons that have lost sight of why people would have been involved in the first place, from the sad but rather predictable, “it’s cheaper than a dating site” predators who go on the pull in any sort of grouping, through to the more malevolent types who just like the power element of ordering people about and taking advantage of the vulnerable. Probably the worst ever example of this was Jimmy Saville who used his charitable work as a mask for the most appalling of acts.
The morality of charities becomes dubious even with some of the big names in the sphere. Organisations set up to research illnesses are often some of the biggest torturers of animals, some of the major religious charities have fallen foul of the lgbt community with their dubious moral standing, while some charities swamp others and suck away their potential funding and many with high street shops have been complicit in staffing them with the unpaid sick and unemployed people under compulsory work experience schemes.
I’m not saying that all charities and charity work is bad, far from it in fact. I do a bit myself occasionally but keep very quiet about it, and that is the point, it should be a quiet and personal thing. Doing something for charity in public legitimises the most ill thought out of actions, stunts that end up in deaths, mamings and wasted hospital resources, charity events and performances that lose more money than they make. Situations where people unintentionally end up humiliating others because they haven’t thought through the consequences of their actions or they haven’t been long term enough in their goals and ended up putting vulnerable people’s lives backwards when the well meaning do gooders move on to the next good works. Sometimes, people just waste their time and resources on things that are profoundly useless, draining energy from better causes, powered by nothing more than wishful thinking.
People are often badgered into doing things for charity, the amount of poverty stricken parents who end up shelling out for expensive trainers just for no uniform day or on buying costumes for some themed charity idea, earning pennies compared to the pounds that the parents have spent out. In a lot of cases, showy and attention seeking public displays of worthiness could easily be replaced with someone quietly sticking their hand in their own pocket once in a while, sparing them and everyone else of a lot of embarrassing and amateurish behaviour.
It’s nigh on impossible, talking sense into anyone once they have been sucked into the doing good quagmire. You might as well try getting a creationist to explain the bones of dinosaurs or try and get a heroine addict to swap their habit for a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. After a time, you are asking them to give up their social life, their friendship group, their self definition. For them it must be like an Amish person being shunned.
This though leaves me with one final thought. Has anyone ever set up a charity dedicated to prying people away from doing constant charity work? It might be a worthy cause.
P.S Jonas Salk discovered the cure for Polio and gave it free to the world saving millions of lives and Tim invented the Internet and gifted it to the planet. Yay them!