There should be a saying –
The best way to drain the life out of relationships is to organize them.
Don’t get me wrong. I like schedules and plans. I make appointments, organize my house, and have daily rhythms. But the key factor is that I do it for myself and to pursue relationships. I don’t do it because someone else orchestrates it. I may take advice or suggestions, but I organize my own life.
Even if outside forces try to take over certain aspects of my life, it is only those things that I give priority and energy to that prosper. The old adage “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” is very pertinent here. You cannot force relationships. Segue, you cannot organizationally force relationships that will properly be able to help and encourage individuals.
You cannot drink just from being in the room with a cup of water. You must choose to pick up the water and swallow. Neither can you help someone drink in any efficient or long term way. You might be able to make a short, emergency measure, but unless they can drink by themselves, their life is pretty much over.
Since drinking is such a personal choice and activity, all the organizing in the world won’t make people do it more. Remember, the comparison is not providing the water, but doing the drinking. To provide opportunity for a drink is like to provide someone with the opportunity to make an effort (a.k.a. work) on their own behalf.
Charity is like helping people to drink. Opportunity, like water, is necessary and available. There may be a temporary need for help, yet to keep helping is like (accidentally?) limiting their water supply and keeping them weak from dehydration.
Some opportunities are harder to access or require creative tapping into, but they are there, and they must be delved into by the individual. (Let us assume we are not talking about people that obviously need taking care of, such as children, brain impaired, or true invalids.) Opportunities to take care of oneself are necessary to life and livelihood. Even when government or weather interfere, water and opportunities can still be found to take care of oneself and one’s family.
That doesn’t mean we should never help people, but we should be much less organized about doing it. Why? Because predictable, organized charity seduces human nature with a promise of available intravenous fluids. Consider that these fluids keep the individual tied to the charity, bedridden, and much more prone to helplessness. Too many people will even make choices to incapacitate themselves so that they qualify for such convenient resources. (Beware the Cobra Effect)
This helplessness can take many forms, depending on the particular organized charity available. If the charity provides for homeless people, homeless people will be more abundant. It is not just that they gather around the charity resources, there are actually more of them because the choice is regularly rewarded. If the charity aides those who are physically abused, that status becomes profitable. It may seem bizarre and sick-minded to some of us, but to others it is simply a financial decision, whether it be conscious or unconscious.
Let me re-emphasize that I am not talking about help in a real crisis. However, if a system is set in place to basically pay (whether with goods, shelter, or even monetary help) a certain behavior, a significant number of people will engage in that behavior to get paid. This is an economic fact. It is something I saw the results of when visiting an orphanage in Zambia. Parents would abandon their children there for the free care. Only very few “orphans” were truly orphans, and even those had extended family that decided to subject the child to institutional care because it was “free.” This was definitely left out of the presentation that asked people to donate. Lest you judge them too harshly, many American parents do something very similar when they drop off their young children at “free” public schools for most of their waking hours.
Most people that I know start out to work for or give to organized charities with good intentions. And some people are apparently helped by those organizations, although if you dig deeper into this you will probably find fewer are really helped than most people think or report. Unfortunately, validating the organized charity model by saying “they help some people” or “even if one person is helped it is worth it” is very misleading.
By the same argument, you could say that slavery was good, because at least they were getting food and shelter. Or maybe it would be good if all kids were kept in orphanages because some would learn to read there.
On the flip side, to ignore the truly efficient use of time and money is to limit prosperity and deny resources to others who might make better use of them. No matter how efficiently an organization may try to run (and there is plenty of evidence that not for profits and governments are incapable of real efficiency), the way their services and goods are bestowed can never be efficient in the same way person-to-person charity can be. Not only does the bureaucracy of organization siphon off some of the funds, but there is attempted duplication of environments which are already present in real, personal life.
When charity is personal and unpredictable, everyone involved has more at stake. The individual who helps places more value on his time or money than any organization he donates to could. The individual receiving the help places more value on what is received beause there is more a sense of making the best of an unpredictable opportunity. Does this guarantee perfection in the process or that all selfish human nature will be won over? Of course not, but it is better, just like living in a family is better than living in an orphanage.
Another problem with organized charity is how very public it is. In the effort to raise funds, or awareness, or make available help known, there must be publicity. This undermines the more important need for quiet humility on the part of the helpers and privacy on the part of the helped. While personal charity may still be vaingloriously proclaimed, it will not get as much attention as organized charity, and thus will be more humble in the long run. Real charity, with only the good of the recipient in mind, is a private affair that brings the helper no acclaim.
We have to be careful to ask a few important questions about charity:
- Do we have the best possible understanding of the source of the problem? If we don’t, we may be actually making it worse or not helping at all.
- Do we know enough about the specific situation to help effectively? We may know the source, but not be privy to details of circumstance or relationship that have important bearing on what should be done.
- Are we appropriately concerned about long term results? If so, then offering a bandaid type solution will be less likely.
- Are we willing to put aside self-gratification at feeling we have done good to leave room for real life complications?
These are all questions that are harder for an organization to ask or respond to. Organizations have to have protocols that tend to be impersonal and inflexible.
Religious and government institutions have burdened people with the idea that charity or volunteering is more noble than labor leading to profit. Whether or not people influencing such rhetoric are totally aware of the economic and moral fallacy of this, it is wrong on many counts. Donating time or money to charity is not morally superior to laboring to provide products or services that others deem worthy of paying for. It is not more noble to ask for other people’s money to take care of a perceived need than to work and be able to give your own resources as you see fit. It is very meaningful to work hard to make money to provide for your own needs and those that may be dependent on you.
It is not inherently greedy to work for comfortable prosperity, and it is certainly not ungreedy to want other people’s resources for free. It is not more noble to receive charity than to work for a level of prosperity that benefits many people around you by the very nature of cooperative economics. Virtue and character are not qualities one gains by being poor and on the dole anymore than they automatically belong to those with wealth.
It is regularly ignored that the charity given is really exactly the same things that other people work for. That someone has to work for. These items don’t transform to a non-economic status simply because one person receives them at the expense of another. No institution can simply declare a method of helping others that will not function by the basic principles of economics. And such calls to action should be suspect because they funnel people’s efforts into organizations that give status and even more influence to those institutions.
The best long term charity model is to build real businesses that result in real jobs providing products and services that people value enough to spend some of their own hard won resources on. Don’t beg people to buy things because it is for charity, because that is rarely sustainable and doesn’t help the employees engage in the marketplace to full advantage. Instead, have a business that is genuinely desired by some segment of the population. Reward the hard workers, take a chance on a few people that might need a chance or some training, all according to the ability of your business to maintain its competitive edge. You may even find more efficient ways to provide a particular thing so that it is less expensive and more available to those with less funds in their budget.
If you have a desire to help others, you will find opportunities. Meanwhile, if you have gainful employment, you will not be needing charity for yourself and you can be a good example of how beneficial hard work and humble budgeting are, all while contributing to the general prosperity instead of draining it away. None of these ideas are original with me, as you will see if you follow the links embedded in this article. (I also recommend the links within the links.) These are just not popular ideas because they don’t give the same easy good feelings, don’t get as much attention, don’t give the appearance of quickly addressing needs, and take more real personal involvement in other people’s lives than organized and mass charity. Maybe another saying is in order:
Unorganized charity – helping people effectively when no one is looking