Ok, so let me offer up something a little bit hypnothetical to start off today… If you saw a child that had fallen into a fairly shallow lake and was thrashing about at the prospect of drowning, and all you had to do to save the child’s life was wade into that lake, and pull the child out, would you do so?
I am guessing you would… I am guessing you said yes to that question…
When I ask my students that, they all say that they would anyway… Wonderful people that my students are, eh?
What if jumping into that lake meant that you would ruin your most expensive pair of shoes? For me, I’d gladly soil my best pair of £500.00 Prada’s to save anyone… Most people when asked the same question, usually insist the shoes being ruined wouldn’t make any difference. Most of them look at me as if to say “of course it would make no difference!”
So we summise that a pair of shoes doesn’t count when it comes to saving a child’s life. Where am i going with this today? Let me explain…
Here in the Uk, we have the annual Comic Relief fundraising campaign — raising money being funny… All the stars of UK comedy are helping in the TV efforts to raise funds… It raises many other notions in my mind too…
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), estimates that about 27,000 children die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes… It is an untterly miserable statistic, isn’t it?
Meanwhile almost a billion people live very comfortable lives… Even in the current economic downturn, they have money to spare for a bewildering array of gadgets and luxuries.
If you don’t think you are spending money on luxuries, when did you last spend money on something to drink, when drinkable water was available for nothing? You get to choose what flavour crisps you’d like to go with your drink in the pub too, don;t you? That is luxury in my book… Reminding me of the famous sketch by the Monty Python guys at the Secret Policemans ball….
“You Live in a shoe box?… Luxury… Sheer bloody luxury” (said in Yorkshire accent…) etc, etc… “And you tell the kids of today that… And they won’t believe you...”
Ok,. so here is a cheery thought that’ll make you feel delighted you tuned in to read today… If it was recently that you invested in any small luxury, then you are spending money on that while children die from malnutrition or diseases that we know how to prevent or cure. What you spent on that bottle of water was probably more than their families have to live on for an entire day.
I am not intending to be laying on the guilt here… I am writing with as much ‘matter of fact restraint’ as is possible for me…
Many people espouse this notion in response to what I just wrote… That if everyone who can afford to contribute to reducing extreme poverty were to give a modest proportion of their income to effective organisations fighting extreme poverty, the problem could be solved. It wouldn’t actually take a huge sacrifice, would it?
This is where it gets interesting in a apsychological sense… because there seem to be certain psychological barriers that prevent us creating this solution. Some recent reading of mine in the psychology of giving describes some of these barriers:
•We are much more likely to help an identifiable individual than to donate to help a group of people. (I mean, if you look at the way many celebrities and wealthy individuals have given terminally ill Jade Goody small fortunes and contributions to her recent weddings and so on, it illustrates this very well)
•When others are also able to help, the diffusion of responsibility makes it less likely that we will help, especially if we do not see the others helping.
•When faced with more people in need than we are able to help, we focus on those we can’t help, rather than on those we can help, and conclude that trying to help is futile.
•Money is the obvious means by which most individuals can help those in extreme poverty in other countries, but thinking about money tends to alienate us from others.
How we can use the findings of psychological knowledge to create a culture that is more favourable to giving than our present one?
One well-supported finding is that people are more likely to give if they know that others are giving. So we need to be upfront about our giving. That is the reason I am so overt in my annual charity raising by running London Marathon… Incidentally you can sponsor me here: http://www.justgiving.com/adam-eason
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a mutually supportive community of people who give to organisations working against extreme poverty? I think so… And so I’ll be tuning in on Friday night to watch comic relief and enjoy some of my favourite funny people doing their bit… Regardless of the politics of celebrity endorsement… Have a fabulous day today 🙂
Hi Adam, this is an interesting piece and I’m inclined to say
Where we can identify one person in immediate need, particularly where money is not the answer (drowning child etc) most people will act.
Where that one person is a beggar on the street, some people will act (give money), some won’t because of the danger of becoming entangled with a greater commitment than they want. (Just a couple quid more guv and I can…)
Where a group of people are in need through no fault of their own many people will give money but not commitment. Perhaps they are buying off their feelings of guilt for not being in that situation.
Where a person or group of people are perceived to have brought it on themselves, few people will act. They may even become angry at being asked to give when they are also in need.
To come back to the shoes…
Many people have assets worth more than their income but they are not easily used to help another when you still need to use them.
It appears to me that giving to charity is a moral and ethical minefield on a very personal level.