A foundation created to promote the public good (not for assistance to any particular individuals)

A kindly and lenient attitude toward people

An activity or gift that benefits the public at large

An institution set up to provide help to the needy

It is always encouraging to see compassion alive and well in society, in the form of charity. It always amazes me the number of people who do charity work, or who donate money to charities.

My mother worked for the red cross for one day a week for nearly twenty years. My father has dedicated himself to doing charity work since he retired from business. So why do they do it? Why do people like my parents, and others, decide to work as a volunteer in an organisation to help other people?

In the beginning, I thought it was ego. I thought they were doing it so they could tell their friends “Oh, I do charity work you know,” but in the end I just couldn’t see that. As a matter of fact, I think it was me who wanted to do charity work so I could impress people with my “giving nature.” For others though, they just wanted to help; so I concluded that it must be compassion. I also was under the impression that it was only wealthy people who did charity work, but once again I was proved wrong, having seen people from all walks of life involved.

So who are these armies of people, helping people less fortunate than themselves? Who are the people who are concerned with the homeless, animals, or saving the planet? Are they just self-interested parties wanting to promote their own cause or agenda, and what are their real aims? Do they want to convert people to their religion?

Because it does seem that many charities have affiliations to religious organisations.

What do they really want? What is their hidden agenda? Are they secret societies, set up to advance themselves under the guise of helping others, or is the helping real?

These, and many other questions, went through my head prior to writing this topic.

As you may have read in other topics, I am currently volunteering at a buddhist retreat on a scottish island, whose aims are to promote world peace and health; but I had to ask myself (cynically you may add), “Are they just trying to spread their religious beliefs under the guise of developing a community dedicated to world peace? Do they secretly want everyone in the world to be a buddhist?”

What matters is that they are trying to help!

How many of us care? I mean, really care? Aren’t we all so interested in “me,” that we can’t see anyone else? That’s definitely the way I was, only thinking about myself; so does it really matter that they are from a religious group, or a political organisation if they are offering assistance? Is it not better that people help in any way they can, even if they do have their own agenda; or are we (by accepting their charity) also accepting their beliefs?

Let me ask you one question: Would the world be a better place if there were no charities? I am sure that most of you would agree that it would not. There is so much good done by them worldwide, that millions of people would suffer if their assistance was to be removed; and let’s not forget you, the giving public, who “religiously” give to charities every time you see a box being shaken, or an appeal on television.

In response to one appeal on television, I sponsored a child in india. I don’t know, it just felt like a good way to spend forty dollars a month, considering it was easy for me to spend that in one night in the pub! I let it lapse after two years, as I ran out of money; but I hope that whatever I gave, helped.

It’s the same as the tv campaigns to help the starving children in africa. Millions of pounds is raised in this way. So we should all give ourselves a big pat on the back for helping out less fortunate people than ourselves, with money we can well afford to give.

I hear many of you thinking: “Why should I give my hard earned money to charity,” but no one ever forces you to do it. After all, that’s why it’s called charity, because you are being charitable!

Others may think it’s the government’s job to be charitable on our behalf, as it is our money they are spending, but governments aren’t equipped to help. That’s why we need the oxfams and the red crosses of this world, and the thousands of other small charities with their armies of unpaid volunteers to lend a hand.

Charity = compassion in action

How many times have you seen a soup van surrounded by drunks and the homeless, with a volunteer faithfully handing out soup, paid for and cooked by others out of compassion for people less fortunate than themselves?

Or the homeless hostels that have been set up in cities, to cater for people with mental illness, and/or drug and alcohol addiction?

Although we all have our faults, there are a large number of us who are truly compassionate and help someone in need if we can, even if it is just giving our debit card details over the phone.

It used to be just older people who helped, but now there are many young people who volunteer their time, and are happy to donate money.

So what makes a volunteer? What makes someone give up their time to help other less fortunate people than themselves, when most people would prefer to be just enjoying themselves? How does someone become a compassionate individual? First, we have to look at parents. If the parents are the type of people who believe in helping others, it is more than likely that you will adopt the same belief structure (this also works in reverse of course), the second is your immediate social group, and third, whether you belong to any other group that places a value on helping others.

It is rare that you would just wake up in the morning and decide to help others, after a lifetime of only helping yourself, wouldn’t you say? Or is it? Can someone who has no compassion for others decide to help?

Of course! Through awareness!

I became aware that helping others was of much greater value to the world than only helping myself.

Awareness that I did not exist alone in the world, and that everything is interconnected. I realised through helping others, I was helping myself to let go of my own sense of self-importance. I have now made a commitment, or vow, to dedicate myself to the service of others.

So what does that mean? Does that mean I will no longer earn any money wandering the streets looking for anyone to help? No of course not! I have to be able to provide for myself, otherwise I will be in need of help. There is no point in trying to help and requiring support yourself! It defeats the object of helping.

During my time at the retreat I spoke to several volunteers who were claiming a tax credit (worth about forty pounds a week) from the government, which is paid by you and I, in the form of tax levied against us. I couldn’t understand why they were claiming money and saying they were volunteering. One could argue that the fact that they were volunteering at all to work on a charitable project was worth a measly forty pounds a week, given that the governments of the world spend billions of pounds a year on weapons designed to kill people!

One volunteer did slightly annoy me when he said: “I don’t need money to live in the world, I am free of capitalism and attachment to material possessions, look at those sad people out there doing the same thing day in day out.”

I quickly had to point out to him that the island he was living on was funded by a charity, which in turn was funded by ordinary people doing the same thing day in and day out.

But that is relatively unimportant here. One thing that does concern me though, is that although most charities are doing a great job in the world helping people lead “better” lives, I am all too aware that the money that goes into charities has to come from somewhere; and that somewhere may be doing more harm than good in its own business. You may say that it doesn’t matter what the source is, as long as people are helping, but in my opinion, it does.

Let me give you a scenario to contemplate for a moment.

Company X – The charity

Company X is a real estate developer owned by two brothers. Both of them are fairly religious, and go to church every sunday, where they always put some money in the plate to help with the upkeep of the church. Neither of the brothers has ever been in any trouble; and they regularly help out at the local soup van for the homeless, and in a charity shop run by an organisation helping starving people around the world.

They come from a wealthy family, whose philanthropy (voluntary promotion of human welfare) has been well noted over the years. They organise charity dinners several times a year, and have helped raise millions of pounds for environmental charities caring for the rainforests, as well as donating several million pounds of their own money, to water sanitisation projects in south asia. This work has saved thousands of children and adults from death and diseases, such as cholera. They have been awarded various medals for their work by the queen.

The brothers plan to sell their business in ten years, and set up a charitable foundation with forty percent of the money raised. The rest they plan to donate to various charities in their wills.

I think you’d agree these two men are very charitable!

They are fictional, but there are many people like them in the world. Can you find anything to fault them? Looking at that resume, I would say not! Now that’s all wrapped up nicely, and we can move on. Or can we?

Maybe we need to look at these two holier than thou characters a little more closely. Or should we just accept that they donate money, help people, and that’s the end of it? It does seem to me that whenever somebody gets rich enough to give away lots of their own money, there has to be a cost somewhere else, do you agree? It is precisely that cost we will be investigating here.

You see, Company X buys green-belt and urban land, primarily to develop shopping centres and supermarkets. That’s it. Their clients in turn open shops, and the public get what they want. Lots of everything. What’s the problem with that? Let’s go through it one more time.

Real estate developer buys field, builds something that people pay money for, which in turn gives the public what they want. Easy! And that’s the whole problem.

Everything seems fine until you shine a spotlight on it, and start uncovering the truth.

Let’s start to de-construct this Company X, shall we?

They buy up a piece of green land (by green, we mean nothing on it). They bring in their builders, who require massive amounts of bricks, concrete, and glass. They build a tarmac car park, big enough to hold several thousand cars (you’ll need a car because it’s in the middle of nowhere, and anyway how will you get all that shopping home). They invite companies to lease their properties within the shopping centre, and get replies from a diverse range of retailers, including one supermarket whose products come from all over the world. Flown in by air, shipped by sea, and road freighted. The farmers, who produce the items for export, have to make space available in the fields for products that are not going to be for local consumption, thereby changing the local landscape. The labourers, who work in the fields for these farmers in far away countries, are paid a measly wage, and struggle to make ends meet. The farmer uses tin, plastic, cardboard, etc. to package the products, and then huge amounts of fuel is used to ship the products to the distribution centre, where they are stored using electricity, until they are shipped by road to the supermarket. The consumer arrives by car at the supermarket causing, not only more traffic, but also pollution. The shopping is then done under one megawatt of lighting, and carted off in its plastic packaging in a plastic bag to the car, which is driven home.

Are you with me so far?

The second retailer who rents a space in Company X’s shopping centre, is a cheap clothes retailer. People can buy fashionable clothes for next to nothing. Why? Because the retailer has them manufactured in a far away country, where the labour is cheap. To fulfil the orders, the overseas manufacturer has to grow huge amounts of cotton (not destined for the local market), and uses huge amounts of resources making the products, which will go for cheaper than a cup of coffee in some parts of the western world. These cheap products encourage the population to buy products they don’t need, just because they are cheap; which in turn fuels a demand for more cheap products, which requires someone to suffer in a factory in asia as a result.

The third retailer who rents a space in Company X’s shopping centre, is a fast food chain. They already have thousands of branches worldwide. People can buy cheap hamburgers, chips, and fizzy drinks from the company, because they mass farm animals. This involves clearing huge spaces for the cattle etc. to graze (or large sheds with thousands of cages in them, if they sell chicken), and they also require huge areas of farming land to be used for the sole purpose of producing foodstuffs for the cattle. Huge amounts of water are also needed. Then they must have huge fields for the production of potatoes, for the chips. Soft drink companies use huge amounts of water for their products, and transport them in plastic bottles all over the world. People then come into the fast food outlet, buy food that is nutritionally sub-standard, and then drop litter all over the countryside.

Company X – world saviour

Soon there are several hundred retailers in the shopping centre. What sort of impact do you think Company X has made, apart from a huge plus on their bank balance? If you look at, what some would see as, the positive side, they have created jobs for all the people involved in building the centre, and jobs for all retailer workers, and jobs for all the suppliers, and the support workers.

Wow, these brothers are saints, just look at all the employment they have created! The employment then provides the means for these workers to earn money to pay their bills, and then spend it all at the shopping centre! Not only are local jobs are created; some might argue that people are better off in the “cheap,” sorry, “developing” countries, and that without the shopping centres and retailers, these poor people would have no food. But whenever someone wants to do something to their own advantage they will always come up with a constructive argument. It has been done on many occasions when governments have wanted to invade a country! But the question we have to ask ourselves is “are jobs the only key indicator for humanity?” “Is providing employment at any cost what we are here for?” One would hope not.

We would all agree that people have to have sanitary living conditions, and plentiful food and water, but remember, people have survived for thousands of years without factories giving them employment – factories have only been around since the industrial revolution, some 200 odd years ago. The ends can never justify the means, and, in Company X’s case, just because they give a few million pounds to help the poor, does not excuse the social and environmental damage they are causing – all because they want to earn more money.

Do not be fooled by people’s generosity. Look behind the veil. Find out the truth for yourself.

I don’t want to appear paranoid, but when companies and individuals are giving away lots of money I start to sense just a little bit of “guilt” creeping in. You will notice that when rich people are generous with money towards the more needy, the sums of money involved seem huge to us; but in proportion to their wealth. they are small. After all, a rich man doesn’t stay rich if he gives away all his money.

Please look into this with me closely.

You may think I am being unduly unkind to the two brothers who seem to be only concerned with others, but at the heart of their empire is greed, not compassion. Think about it.

Why do we need charity? It is because of a fundamental imbalance between the have’s and the have not’s. The have’s feel guilty about having, and the have not’s feel jealous that the have’s have! Do you follow? So the have’s make themselves feel less guilty about having, by giving away a little of what they have to the have not’s!

Thereby redressing the balance (in their minds).

The problem with charity is we think everyone needs our help; that they are poor and wretched; that because they don’t have what we have, we should help them get it.

We’ve all seen the newsreels of wailing mothers and their children, in the midst of an earthquake or flood, and we feel compelled to get our credit cards out, and phone the charity to pledge a donation. What we may not know is that the credit card company is making tens of millions out of the misery of others who cannot afford to pay it back, and the bank behind the credit card may be investing heavily in businesses that do more harm (environmental and social) than good in the country you are pledging to help! It’s an ethical minefield you have to tread very carefully around. The company you use to make your donation may itself be causing terrible problems in the world. I remember paying for the sponsorship of that boy in india with my credit card. I wonder how many people are suffering as a result of having that credit card!

So what should we do? Should we stop large companies from donating money to charity? Should we let all those people suffer? Come on! It’s just a small shopping centre, think about it. So the environment may suffer a bit, and people in the developing world may have to work in sweat shops fourteen hours a day, and forests may have to be cleared a teeny bit. But isn’t it a small price to pay for saving all those poor children…. What do you think?

Is charity necessary?

What we seem to be forgetting, is that humans are the most resourceful species on the planet, and have managed to survive through such minor troubles as the ice age. I am not trying to belittle the suffering that people go through on this earth, but people are well equipped (psychologically and physically), for disasters. No one is poor and helpless unless they truly choose to let themselves be that way. The natural human drive is to survive, and the human will try to survive at all costs. What we see as poor is only because they seem to have so little compared with ourselves.

We need shelter, simple clothing, food, and water, that’s all; all other needs have been invented by humans. Giving the poor jobs, decent housing, and a shopping centre in bangladesh, isn’t going to make them happy! Well, it may do superficially; it seems to have worked here in the west. It is worth remembering, that if everyone in the world had access to the lifestyle we have in the west, we would run out of natural resources very, very, very quickly. So it’s a good job that most people in countries like china, ride bicycles, or there wouldn’t be enough oil to go around to make the petroleum to fuel the car to pollute the environment! If people are helped too much our charity might just be the undoing of us all.

Most of the problems that people find themselves requiring the aid of charitable organisations are because of other humans. In our desire for success, we trample over the environment, and others less strong than ourselves. We create cities that favour the strong. We create work environments that favour those who are already wealthy. We create a culture that relies on people having plenty of money. What chance do people have if they do not happen to fit into that way of living? They get left behind, that’s what. The poorly educated, the mentally retarded, the addicted, the socially inept; these are the people who are helped by charity, because everyone else is only concerned with the fast track to success.

Money, money, money, and the stuff it can buy.

That’s why we need charities, otherwise these people would just fall off the edge and die.

Half way through this topic I left the retreat and am now working for an educational trust that attempts to help young people aged between 16 and 25, with severe learning difficulties, and emotional/psychological disorders.

The charity tries to help them, through the development of craft (the skilled practice of a practical occupation) skills, and I, alongside my girlfriend, am a house-parent. This involves caring for them all term without a day off, trying to teach them social skills, and help them become a bit more independent. This is another charity funded by the taxpayer. It may or may not help the students to become better human beings, or become contributors to society, but at least this college is trying, whereas most people would have abandoned these young people a long time ago. It costs more a year to keep them than I have ever earned, and they don’t seem to appreciate it; but we keep doing it, because it might just help them, and that in turn might help society in the long term.

Will I keep doing this job? Probably not.

The students are difficult to work with, and it is stressful, but I believe it fits with my ethos of being self-supportive whilst being of service to others more needy than myself. I do not believe that working for a large commercial organisation could fulfil this.

Is human charity a genetic trait?

I just can’t see how it can be.

Through this exploration with you today, I now believe that man is not inherently charitable to his fellow-man, and there is no natural instinct to help others in far away places from leading a thoroughly miserable life. There has to be an intermediary, a go-between; someone who bridges the gap between the needy and the people who will be made to be charitable, although it does take a lot of effort for the charity (the go-between) to wrestle time and/or money out of those of us well able to help. Of course, some people will never be convinced to help.

A good example of a need for an intermediary is the “big issue” sellers I often watch in the street, desperately trying to sell their (informative) magazine. They can stand outside newsagents where people happily buy £5.00 worth of other magazines. On being confronted by the homeless person’s cry of “Big Issue?” the people who have bought some glossy magazines, make some sound resembling “no thanks,” and shuffle off hiding their face, looking uncomfortable. I have even seen people who do not buy the big issue (a magazine sold by homeless people on the street to help them get on their feet. They buy it for 75p in the uk and sell it for £1.50), yet one block down, put money into the collection tin of another charity!

Why? Is it because they don’t like the “big issue?” Doubtful. It is a good magazine, good value for money, and directly helps poor people.

Unfortunately, I think it’s more to do with the seller. I know this sounds terrible, but I have in the past noticed myself avoiding a certain “big issue” seller, because of the way he looks, or because his nails or his teeth are horrible.

Maybe we are scared of people who look different or have problems? So you can see why perhaps the man preferred to put his money in the charity box of the smiling, well dressed elderly lady one block down.

What do you think? Are we naturally charitable, or are we selfish? Are we only concerned with our needs, or do we consider the needs of others as well as our own? There’s an old expression that says “look after number one,” and we all know who that is – me! Maybe we do have to look after number one first, but we also have to consider our fellow man, after all, I do not exist in isolation.

I am in relationship with you, and we are both in relationship with the rest of the world. If we want to progress together as a planet, we have to start asking the question: “Will what I am about to do affect anyone else in the world negatively?” If the answer is “yes,” it will be on your conscience if you go ahead anyway!

Still, you could always give large amounts of money to charity afterwards, and then you’ll feel all better…

Ahh, guilt relief, it’s such a wonderful thing.


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