I’m a longtime reader of the newsletters/blog of fellow Woodstock alum Jim Taylor – who has been a professional writer for far longer than I have, and is a very wise man. This week’s “Sharp Edges” column is about the disastrous floods in Pakistan, wondering Why the reluctance to help? He shares some likely correct ideas about why “international aid has been disastrously slow”, ending with a cogent thought about why this is a huge mistake. I agree with everything he says, and recommend that you read it now.
But I think there’s more to this story, and wrote Jim as follows:
One thing that has surprised me since I moved from Italy back to the US is the constant pleas to give-give-give. Everyone has their “pet” cause – often quite literally about pets – and is constantly asking for “support”. Fundraising is a business in which people are paid to stalk city streets with clipboards, waylaying passersby with earnest questions. Every corporation and celebrity hastens to associate their name with some cause, preferably a non-controversial one that won’t tarnish that name with any possible customer or fan.
The result, for me at least, is a constant low-level feeling of guilt that I’m never doing enough to save the world. No matter that I gave my childhood for my father to “develop” Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh. Never mind that I have given considerable time, travel costs, and professional expertise to Woodstock and SAGE. I’m a bad person if I don’t also save dolphins, pit bulls, starving children, forests, etc.
The most bizarre request I’ve seen was in a sandwich shop in Colorado: taped to the counter at the cash registers was a flyer made up and printed by an employee, concerning the daughter of his neighbor. The child was killed by a car while playing outside her home “just minutes after this picture was taken!” and we were all now invited to help the family defray funeral costs.
It’s as if we are all expected to participate, emotionally and financially, in every tragedy in the world. I don’t think the human psyche is designed to deal with that much grief, even vicariously.
So when one more cause comes along, no matter how worthy, I just shut down. It feels like yet another imposition on my emotional energy. I don’t know whether that makes me a bad person, or simply a burnt-out charity case.