The Paradox of Organized Charity

Stephen Marsh Mormon 12 Comments

Experimental ethics is an area that teaches lessons we may not expect.  Some of the lessons make sense.  Panhandlers working in front of a bakery are more successful than those next to an open sewer.  Our peers affect what we will do.  Someone standing around doing nothing makes it less likely someone else will get helped.

Participating in organized charity makes people less charitable — it consumes their general allocation of charitable feelings rather than expanding them.  That leads to the question of how to encourage kindness if organized activities are often counterproductive.

Modeling, peer group normalizing, self directed opportunity awareness.  These all sound like buzzwords, but they have real meanings, real applications.  An example helps.

Dr. Jack McConnell, at dinner would ask his kids what random act of kindness or charity they had done that day.  In his own life he modeled charity.  He created a family peer group with his children so that they would see charity as normal.  His method taught them to look for opportunities.

That daily effort is the sort of act that expands awareness rather than closing it off.  The daily report increases reflection and understanding.  It is an excellent example of how to do it, how integrate charity as something that we do rather than something that gets in our way.

Of the primary virtues in our lives, can you think of another more essential, one we need more and are more likely to overlook?  What have you done today to help others find a way to be something they do rather than something that gets in the way?

Can you think of other paradoxes that you have found a way to overcome?

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Comments 12

  1. We are encouraged to develop personal virtues, and have many commandments, callings, and activities to help us develop those. Yet sometimes, for some individuals (usually youth), participation in those commandments, callings, and activities can lead them to feel superior to those around them, paradoxically hindering them from developing the very virtues they are ostensibly striving for.

  2. I live in a major metropolitan city in the NE. It is not uncommon here to be very blunt in language and actions. And no its’ not New York. Yesterday, I was riding on a crowded city bus, which was filled with school children(teenagers) because they were going on a school trip..The children took the seats up front which are really supposed to be occupied by the elderly and handicapped. An elderly man got on and no one up from their seat. One of their teachers called them from the back of the bus and told them to give up their seat. Now, the elderly man did not say thank you. and the student said something nasty. I took this as a ” teaching opportunity and said thank you to the student, but then I also reminded her that it is common courtesy to get up and give ones’ seat to an elderly person, but I said that the man should have shown more gratitude.

    This is what we need to improve on basic acts of common civility toward our fellow human beings that we share this earth with. It may seem like this is a stupid thing to state, but really do you how many acts of violence could be avoided by teaching this kind of basic principle? i think it woudld be alot

  3. p.s I’m not a fan of organized charity for the following reasons.

    1) when I think of organized charity I think of it in terms of seasonal Christmas help. People helping out at a local soup kitchen during the holidays to help relieve their own sense of loneliness, and or people who help out during that time of year because its’ the right thing to do.

    I would rather participate in ordinary everyday things that I see going on around me.(I.e) help the family across the street look for their dog who ran out of the house when they opened the door. helping my neighbor who can’t get down the steps, or because I live by myself and often make food for a family of four giving her half so she has something to eat.

    I don’t think organized charities have the eyes and ear of the neighborhood which lets each of us see what is going on and how we can improve the life of our neighbor, even if its’ just to lend an ear.

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  5. Re: #2. I remember when I assumed that any adult had the authority to instruct or verbally chastise me. This authority was rarely used (pace, Mr. Hobbs, I did not run through your flowers, but I couldn’t tell you that Tommy did it). And most elders were respected. I felt respected and cared for, as well.

  6. @5

    As do I, but in today’s climate, that doesn’t happen. Let me illustrate a point. My friend Felicia was telling me that the other day when it was blazing hot outside(95) some neighborhood kids came and sat on her porch without permission and were spitting on her porch steps. So my friend said to the boys.” Now, how would your mother feel if I came and spit on her steps.” Well two of them apologized. The third one did not and simply stated, that my mother told me that I never have to apologize for anything. And that is exactly the kind of thinking and example of why we have the problems in the world today that we have. What I would have done would have done this, I would have have followed them home told their parents and left them with this thought. If your sons’ don’t come and clean my porch steps to my satisfaction, I wont hesitate to call the police and let them know that your sons’ vandalized my property.

  7. The power of a personal example (like in the OP) is often surprising. I think about things I care most about, and they come from personal individual experiences I’ve had, often because someone older, wiser and / or more experienced took the time to show me the way. Hopefully we do this in many ways as parents.

    A friend who grew up in Philadelphia said her father (a propserous attorney) began each family dinner by asking the children what they had done to make the world a better place that day. She said that question still rings in her ears even though she’s been out of her parents’ home for decades.

    I’m sorry to learn that organized charity limits individual charity, and in fact, I wonder what the definition of charity is in that statement. If it’s just the giving of money, I suppose that it may be true, as we have limited resources, and may see organized charity as being more efficient. But if charity is extended to our attitude toward those around us, it’s hard for me to reconcile that one might replace the other. That hasn’t been my experience.

  8. @ Paul

    I am going to assume that you are speaking to me in your statement.

    Here’s the thing I don’t think Organized Charity is more efficient. To me there is a lot of waste in organized spending. Here’s why I wish I would have researched this more before reading your statement but when we donate money to an organization, much or it goes towards the administrative cost that it takes to run the organization. Second, giving money, whatever the amount is an easy thing to do. It really doesn’t require much thought to the process as to why, or better yet how to better prevent the castrophie from happening in the first place. The third reason that I dislike organized charity is this. I too live in Philadelphia, I have given to Philabundance many times. For those of you who don’t know what Philabundce is, it’s. It’s a organization that provides meals to those people who are affected with HIV during the Holiday season. Now my next door neighbor, was gay and HIV positive, he would often get meals from this organization(which was quite a lot of food) and share with his neighbor’s. So, you say what is wrong with this. Nothing, except, he lied about where his food was coming from, He tried to make sound like he got it from work,which, not only is a lie, because I saw the truck that it was delivered in, but it als tells me he wasn’t truly appreciative of , not only the time but the effort that went to preparing him that meal.

    Maybe’ I’m wrong in my thinking but I don’t want the money that I’m giving to help with some disaster to help with the office printer. I want it to go to the actual individual. I want to know and see the results of my charity, not for my own personal glory(for lack of a better word), but rather to see how my efforts have changes the lives that I’ve taken the time to help. I want to expeirance the actual physical activity of the service that I’m providing and just writing a check doesn’t cut it for me.

    The last thing that I want to say is this. Charity begins at home. To me that means that not only do I begin with acts of service for my family members, but then I give it to my neighbor, and then to the larger frame. I think people think charity has to be a grand offer that needs to done otherwise whats’ the point. I don’t believe that to be true.

  9. Dblock I was not speaking to you, but I appreciate your thoughts.

    I was responding to this statement in the OP: “Participating in organized charity makes people less charitable….”

    I think there’s a distinction between giving money charitably (or donating time), and acting charitably (that is, with the pure love of Christ) toward others. If I donate money or time to an organized charity, I might feel less inclinded also to drop a few cents into a beggar’s cap, thinking I had already done my part. But it should not limit other charitable actions toward others.

    As for the efficiency of charitable giving — I have no personal view. My charitable gifts are my decision and I wouldn’t try to sway you to do what I do. To be sure there are some charities whose overhead costs are higher than others, and I suppose it makes sense to think carefully about that when giving.

  10. paul

    I hope that you did not perceive me as trying to sway you how you should give of your time or money, because your right that is not for me to say.I apologize if you came away with that impression.

    As far as giving money on the street, I also agree with you. Having been homeless myself(due to two completely different illness) I was never brave enough to beg anyone for money, but now that I am back on my feet, I won’t hesitate to buy them food. If I get the impression that they are really looking for help, I also won’t hesitate to call a local homeless shelter to have someone come pick them up so they can be processed into the system and be accessed to see what services they could be entitled to.

  11. a buddy of mine does a weekly run where he hands out bagels to the homeless (Ive gone with him a few times). He commented a couple of weeks back, “I loved doing this at the start, but then I focused on getting bagels to people and it got really tiring to do it. Once I shifted my focus back to Christ and honoring Him, it got easy again.”

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