Tales of Underdevelopment

This article on charitable giving, published in The New York Times recently, gave me some new food for thought on charity and how much of an emotional gesture it is. I already wrote on how an impacting photo can influence people to donate and mitigate the tragedy expressed in it. This article now says that the US domestic giving is just as emotional, a way for an individual to distinguish himself or herself and affirm a relationship with a cause important to him/her; basically, to feel good, important, powerful. In a way, it is also a way to exert control. After all, when you pay taxes you resent the process; when you give to a charity, you feel empowered to influence. Shall we still give subjectively or leave to an objective comprehensive body the opportunity to decide where to send our charitable money? Even if we want to give to a really good deserving cause (not an opera house or a hospital in a wealthy area) how do we determine that it’s the best one and not a particularly squeaky wheel? Personally, I haven’t found the balance between personal involvement and objectivity; in fact, I am still very conflicted about my choices. I didn’t give to children begging for money at intersections in Managua because I knew they were sent by abusive parents. But that didn’t alleviate their suffering. I admit I have repeatedly given small amounts of money to my son’s extremely wealthy school, but then he was attending on a very generous scholarship. And I haven’t decided what to think of international organizations trying to influence the social or economic policy of developing countries based on what they decide to finance in terms of development projects… from the position of knowledgeable, even enlightened purse-holders. The causes may be great, but then it’s still an outside decision on what to do with the money. Don’t know.


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