When giving does more harm than good
Charity should be measured more by restored lives than good intentions, some experts suggest. Perhaps we should be going about 'helping' differently.
This post comes from Matthew Illian at partner site Credit.com.
The giving season is fast approaching, and many of us are making plans to donate our time, talents and treasure to help those in need. Helping others is an integral part of the American character. Compassion experts and fieldworkers argue that much of these good intentions fuel a toxic form of charity that fails to offer lasting change.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the War on Poverty, he intended for these new efforts to be a "hand up," not a "handout." In hindsight, while the War on Poverty introduced massive increases in welfare spending, the American poverty rate remained at 15%, right where it stood two years after Johnson's effort was announced. President Bill Clinton, before passing welfare reform legislation, shared that welfare is "a broken system that traps too many people in a cycle of dependence."
Private charity can create the same cycles of dependency. According to two books, "When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, and "Toxic Charity" by Robert Lupton, much of the assistance Americans provide to those in need is doing more harm than good. Religiously motivated charity is often the most irresponsible. These authors argue that charity should not be measured by good intentions but by restored lives.
But how do we determine if our helping is actually hurting another person? "When Helping Hurts" suggests that we begin by trying to define poverty.
Thought experiment: Define 'poverty'
Corbett and Fikkert give seminars around the world and ask their attendees to define poverty. Wealthy, developed-world audiences tend to emphasize a lack of material things when defining poverty: lack of money, food and access to clean water, for example.
The poor talk about material things, but they also emphasize the psychological and social nature of poverty. "When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior," shares a woman from Uganda in a World Bank publication called "Voices of the Poor". Material gifts may help in the short term, but they are just as likely to accentuate this woman’s feelings of inferiority.
The result of these exchanges reminds me of the "Jesus Comes at Christmas" trips our family would take to some of the relatively poor families in our North Jersey suburb. These were quick drop-offs of holiday food baskets that included toys for the kids, but it was hard not to have a bit of a savior mentality as we drove house to house. .
I vividly remember the feeling of disappointment when a young child answered the door and sheepishly accepted our gift basket and closed the door quickly without any of the appreciation that we were all secretly expecting to receive.
The problem was that we had no relationship with these families except to play Santa Claus one day a year. Looking back, both families were a bit worse off by the awkward exchange. Our family left disappointed by the thankless welfare mentality we observed, and any feelings of superiority we harbored at the beginning of the expedition were only reinforced. The receiving family had to endure the humiliation of another unknown do-gooder family showing up at their doorstep.
Determine what needs must be met
Corbett and Fikkert suggest that those who desire to help should start by discerning the type of need that exists. "Relief" can be defined as urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid. Immediate support is needed after a natural disaster or when a woman seeks refuge from a physically abusive relationship.
But relief is no longer needed when individuals have the opportunity to help themselves. After the crisis has been averted, it is important to move quickly into "rehabilitation and "development." These next stages require the "helpers" to move into a partnership role and allow the "helped" to participate and plan their own recovery.
However, relief is relatively easy to administer, whereas rehabilitation and development require much more time and effort. Painting a house, writing a check or dropping off a food basket can all be done in a short time period and make for great Kodak moments. Development takes years or decades and often endures as many steps backward as forward.
Distinguishing between "relief" and "rehabilitation and development" can also be challenging. Does having electricity cut off at a poor family’s home require a relief response? Both books suggest this depends in part on the degree to which the person was responsible for their terrible situation. The sad fact is that some people are not ready to seek rehabilitation or claim any responsibility for their condition. For example, it's worth reconsidering why the Cratchit family in "A Christmas Carol" is so poor.
Many of those who would like to help lack the time and expertise to ensure their time and talents are being used effectively. We can, however, begin to learn how to identify charities that are able to help those in need make the transition from relief to rehabilitation and development.
This holiday season, consider this Oath for Compassionate Service developed by Robert Lupton of FCS Urban Ministries:
- I will never do for others what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
- I will limit my one-way giving to emergency situations and seek always to find ways and means for legitimate exchange.
- I will seek ways to empower the poor through hiring, lending, and investing and use grants sparingly as incentives that reinforce achievements.
- I will put the interests of the poor above my own (or organizational) self-interest even when it may be costly.
- I will take time to listen and carefully assess both expressed and unspoken needs so that my actions will ultimately strengthen rather than weaken the hand of those I would serve.
- Above all, to the best of my ability, I will do no harm.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its affiliates.
More from Credit.com:
- 4 ways to avoid charity scams
- How credit impacts your day-to-day life
- 5 habits common among the rich
If people cannot afford to help themselves, then why are they having children?
Charity can create a cycle of dependency as shown by the cycle of solicitations I get each year:
1. Fall: School starts. Children do not have clothes or school supplies-pleae give.
2. Winter: Christmas is here. Please give gifts to children.
3. Summer: School is out. No more school lunches. Children will go hungry. Pls give.
To me, these are all routine needs that parents should make some effort to provide for. The parents are mostly able-bodied adults.
i usually donate giving the benefit of the doubt that it will help some child.
What about elderly people? I think they deserve food and holiday gifts as much if not more than younger people.
A few years ago my workplace sponsored a family through a program aiding disadvantaged schoolchildren. Many gave good nonperishable food and household supplies as well as cash for gifts.
Guess what? Next year this charity asked us not to donate food-just cash for gifts.
The non-profit world is lacking in transparency. Most of the charities are paying a HUGE wage to a couple of social workers while only the directors' pay is disclosed to the public and the rest labeled 'staff' some times. A HUGE amount of money goes to the social worker salaries almost making the actually giving/assistance look like a side-line with so many stipulations and limits, the emergency centers are a revolving door of constant referrals elsewhere and denial even for basics when supplies are plentiful.
The mega churches have moved their evangelism into their charity centers, laying quick judgment upon some and shunning those really in need. The Un-Christian atmosphere even moves onto the church grounds with specific people chosen for verbal harassment while the rest of the 'flock' remains silent. The standard of living (and retirement) for the pastors of even the denominational churches is very comfortable while pastors of the mega churches live an obscenely wealthy lifestyle as the 10% club's numbers hit thousands.
In reality, Retail Christmas is a perversion that really financially stresses even modest income 'middle class' families and certainly any family going through ANY financial crisis. When public school teachers encourage children to write about their Christmas gifts, can POOR be announced any more loudly? When management of formerly conservative churches decide to celebrate Christmas because it is profitable (no kidding), something is just wrong.
Children in the poor elementary schools run around the playground in below freezing temperatures in hoodies while the kids in middle-class areas are all running around in coats, hoods, gloves and hat, yet the cold-weather wear for children is the most lacking in the Christmas donation centers while cheap toys and cans of peanut butter fill the donation boxes. Even used children's apparel is almost absent from the Christmas donation centers.
According to this author the source of being poor is a lack of rehabilitation and development of poor people furthering the myth that poverty is a reflection of an individuals intelligence and beliefs. In reality poverty increases when wages and employment opportunities (such as a manufacturing base) decline in an economy as has been occurring for many decades in the US, poverty decreases naturally without interference or control through rehabilitation and development institutions when realistic family wages and abundant employment opportunities are flourishing in an economy. Giving has helped many to sustain while the US economy has been in decline, however this steady decline seems to be a permanent feature of the US economy. So you can send the poor to school, you can rehabilitate their way of thinking, but when they've graduated the program...where will you send them for work when the jobs are not there?
I would like to see hard evidence to back up the following statement: "Religiously motivated charity is often the most irresponsible."
Local St. Vincent De Paul parking lot is jammed with new cars driven by Hispanics, all there to get their free food, than off to the grocery store with SNAP to load up with more, subsidized rent, free medical, 2-3 families in one apartment.
We are being taken advantage of by these scammers.
And note there's NO checking on individual families: the assumption is made there's no parent who is disabled, no spouse who has to stay home because her mom is dying, etc. There's no excuse for needing short term help unless it gives the people a means of earning more money. How how do we cure someone of phase 3 lung cancer?
If the author "harbors" "any feelings of superiority" it sure isn't in terms of character!
immediate needs to see grace and mercy from often , total strangers , unidentified and pay-it-forward to others when they are on their feet again... Rather than creating dependency , we can
portray positive impacts , using good judgement plus compassion in the same proportions...
Excuse me?? Does the writer of this post have some broad-based proof for this statement, or is it just slanderous?
Key word in this story = DO NO HARM........ Think about what you are doing (giving) Do No Harm.
Give to organizations... Not to addicts. Don't enable........
The single most destructive act of giving has to be the "SAVE THE CHILDREN' movement. Not allowing these starving waifs to die just produces more children and an ever-growing need for more aid.
And to top it all of, most of them end up hating us and turning to piracy, drug production, and terrorism. Next time you feel the urge to give to this outfit, blow the money on lottery tickets instead. You won't do nearly as much harm to the world..., and you might get lucky to boot.
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