I want to be as objective as possible in writing this post. Not easy with a subject as deeply emotional as philanthropy can be. Yet, it is because of the propensity for heightened sentimental fervor about giving, that I must try to remain unbiased. Full disclosure, I was prompted to write this entry in response to our efforts to raise money for Spin for Kids over the past couple of months. Feel free to donate yourself after reading this. I am also helping with my alma mater’s annual fundraising drive as well. I wanted to pour down my thoughts and try to analyze for myself what is that makes some of my friends devote their lives to working for non-profits and in Africa fighting various social dilemmas. Contrastingly, what makes others totally indifferent (even angry) to the voices of others doing even so much as gathering together to make their discontent at the overall social order known; especially when they don’t do so under the Tea Party moniker.
I guess it is best to define the topic before I ruse over it. Philanthropy: |fəˈlanTHrəpē| noun – the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed esp. by the generous donation of money to good causes. • a philanthropic institution; a charity. The key point I take from the definition is the helping of others; either through time, money, goods, etc. What though, is the catalyst that makes one go from sympathy for someone else to actually helping. I like to be believe that it is empathy. That not at all automatic ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Even more, the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the other and see life from their perspective. I wish I could evoke it in all of us universally, but there is no method available to readily do this; yet.
I drive on empathy because we know it is not ubiquitous and that this faculty differentiates charitable giving for tax purposes, religious principle, or common sympathy; from the heightened motivation to at every step leave the world better in every phase that one comes across it (environment, education, just being neighborly, etc). I really have wondered how does one evoke true empathy from people, but often come away a little less the uber-optimistic person that I try to be. In looking for an answer I came across one interesting social experiment called Spent (please try it for yourself). The goal of this project is to have a player attempt to try and survive a month from the perspective of someone below the poverty line. The user is forced to make the hard decisions the more disadvantaged of us are faced with every day.
I am already a very empathetic person so it goes without saying that it of course moved me. But I wonder if it has moved others and would like to find out if the charity tied to Spent saw any increase in giving after releasing this web tool. I don’t, however, want to really think about monetary giving, because philanthropy at its core is again the promotion of the welfare of others. Uplifting others does’t always require money; donating old cell phones to Africa for example. Moreover, not everyone can afford to give, but time can be found somewhere. Take for example my friend Jody who has spent most of her adult life working with groups in Africa and other social causes and clearly shows an empathetic tendency to improve the lives of others who don’t look, walk, talk or believe what she does. She isn’t rich, but her time given may mean as much as the donations written by so many for whatever reasons.
Then there are my conservative friends who believe it is every man for themselves and that the struggle of the disadvantaged is a direct result of their poor decision making. I lost one friend in particular (among others) over this stubborn inability to recognize that some people are just born into circumstances that put them behind the curve from the start. I tried to show him the difference of how he, an only child of middle class parents both college educated and employed (though divorced later in his childhood) provided him with so much an advantage than some others. Contrastingly, I showed him the story of another child born in the projects to a druggie mom, absent father, living under social assistance and offered only terrible public schools, is so held back at birth that you have to say him rising out of that plight is an exception and not a guarantee opportunity for all given to such circumstances.
No movement on his part, not even an inch. He is very idealogical, most who I have butted heads with on this subject are. I think that their ideology makes them wary of empathy. To be able to perceive the view of the other could mean compromising beliefs in a way that just can’t do. I don’t want to lose any more friends over ideological differences but I don’t want to acquiesce on my goal to remind people like him that we are all in a social contract that in the long run will either see us all fail or succeed depending on whether or not we hold to it. I guess this blog post is really just an open ended question on how to evoke empathy, and not in the Sally Struthers feed the children commercial way.