To the average person, helping others in need isn’t given second thought, especially when the circumstances involve a catastrophic event, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti or even going back to Hurricane Katrina which ripped through New Orleans. But unless someone ever asked the question of “Why me,” the automated response to helping others would never be uncovered, and it would always be assumed that giving is the right thing to do. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not condoning selfishness or proposing that as a society, we become cold hearted and turn our backs on the less fortunate. However, I am asking that if you read this, you begin to think in other directions, and realize that helping people can actually be a quite complicated subject, depending on the circumstances. The following is an excerpt from Iain King’s “How To Make Good Decisions And Be Right All The Time.”
Compare yourself with someone called Kintu who lives in Africa, whom you have never met. You are much, much richer than Kintu — he has to work hard in the fields every day just to survive. Several members of his extended family have already died of malnutrition, and his village suffers badly from a dirty water supply which has caused deaths from chlorea and makes diarrhoea endemic, weakening the whole community to whatever other diseases emerge. Your money is worth much more to him than it is to you, and he would put any extra resources to very good use by fixing the water and sanitation system in the village. He is especially deserving of your help — indeed, Kintu is actually the most deserving person in the world; the single person who will make the best use of the help you can offer him. If you applied the Help Principle (giving help to someone when your help is worth more to them than it is to you), then you should give him a large portion of your income. But you don’t. Why?
We could identify seven clear failings with the system making of making decisions with the motivation of “doing whatever has the best consequences.” There seem to be another seven why the Principles that flow form the Help Principle are not in place, either:
1. Information- You don’t know how hard Kintu works, or how much he’s helped others in the past. You don’t know how much help he needs, or what sort of help. You don’t know what would happen to the world economic system if everybody applied the Help Principle to people like Kintu. There is just too much information to know, and some of it can NEVER be known.
2. Certainty- Even if you did have some information about Kintu, how much could you trust it? If you send him some money, how do you know it would reach him? It’s not just a question of information, but of having reliable information.
3. Why him? There are at least a billion people facing chronic poverty. Why not help one of the others instead?
4. Who’s responsible? Why should it be you who helps Kintu — why not someone else? Surely there are people more responsible than you for helping Kintu.
5. Your relative status- If you did help Kintu, what would that mean for you in your local town? People often judge themselves relative to others, and giving to Kintu when others do not means you would lose out in your neighbourly social competition.
6. Your previous commitments.- Meanwhile, you have your own family to think about. You may have promised to help them, and honouring your promise means helping Kintu takes second place.
7. Inertia- Finally, the fact you have not helped Kintu in the past seems to provide a reason for not helping him now. Inertia means you act in the way you are not used to acting. You don’t challenge everything you do — that’s too much to think about. So you tend to do what you’ve done before and behave as people expect you to behave.
So there are lots of reasons why you don’t help Kintu (ends King’s work). How’s that for thought process? While I did not write any of that, I will put my spin on the subject of helping others. Something I find interesting is how people play on others emotions to evoke the spirit of giving, and from what I’ve observed, this is usually done because most people don’t fully understand the subject of help.
Why is it that it takes a national disaster to prompt others to help people in need? After the earthquake in Haiti hit, Americans everywhere felt enormous amounts of sympathy for the ravished nation. Images of destruction flooded the media, and filled television sets full of despair in almost every household in the country. Like any good-minded person, we don’t hesitate to act, and we begin to think of what we can do to help, and that’s where I want you to stop. Let’s step back a second to the line “don’t hesitate to think.” Why is this so? Why does it take an earthquake to convince you to give your help to less fortunate people? As of 2003, it was estimated that about 80% of Haiti’s population was living in poverty. 30-40% of Haiti’s economy is foreign aid. Both of those statistics are pre-earthquake Haiti. Now, if you had visited pre-earthquake Haiti, I’m sure you would have seen enough poverty that you would have felt sympathy for those living there, yet instead, you more than likely new nothing about pre-earthquake Haiti, and the only reason you gave money to those people was because of an earthquake. They were already living in poverty-stricken conditions and could have used your money a long time ago. Why does it take an earthquake to make you “cough it up?”
Having said that, I’m going to explain something that directly ties in to that type of thinking. When is the last time you went to a gas station, a supermarket, or even a shopping mall, and you were approached in the parking lot by some kid with a bucket, or you were asked to donate money by a person at the entrance to where you were going? Probably hasn’t been that long. The kid that approaches you sticks his bucket out, citing the saddest speech known to man and possibly puts on a face that makes a rainy day turn to sunshine. As he’s talking to you, chances are that no rational thought is being put into the dollar you’re about to drop in his bucket. Why? Let’s look back at two of King’s points on giving help. Certainty–you don’t know this kid, so how do you know you’re money is going to it’s proposed destination? Inertia–you don’t put any thought into what you’re doing so you do what’s expected of you. You give the kid money without any second thought because you see it as “the right thing to do.” A simpler way of explaining my point would be to ask yourself this: if you’re going to hand out you’re money, why not do some research and find out where your money should go? There are thousands of organizations looking for donations, and more than likely, there are at least a few that touch on areas of life that you feel are worth giving to. Yet, out of nowhere, a random kid walks into your day and begs for your money, and your impetuous decision making enables kids and others everywhere to take your money because they know that if they put on the right show, you’ll fork it over.
The example of the child with the bucket now ties in to the story of giving to Haiti. My original question, “Why does it take an earthquake to motivate you to give money to a country that has needed it for years,” can be linked to the decision making of donating money randomly to strangers you’ve never met. With the problem of Haiti, your decision is tweaked when the right front is put on, meaning–when you see images of disaster or images that make you pity others’ circumstances–and you have no problem giving up your own belongings. This is the same problem with the strangers approaching you in public asking for your money. You don’t know them, yet if they preform a good “dog and pony show,” they’re much more likely to walk away with your cash. So the next time someone’s trying to sell you (not literally), you don’t have to write them off, but you should think about your motivations.