Photo By: Katt Yukawa from Unsplash
It’s now easier to be informed about world events than ever before. It’s also easier and more convenient than ever to make charitable donations. This means that we have an increasing awareness of global issues, as well as a growing ability to make small contributions in attempt to solve them.
People, particularly young, social media savvy people, are under almost constant pressure to make small, charitable donations. We’re exposed to so much information on our timelines it’s inevitable that a good chunk of that information is going to be bad news. Most people want to help others, so when we see people suffering, or a cause that needs support, we feel a natural instinct to do something. The easiest way to do something, of course, is to open up our wallets and make a donation, no matter how small.
There’s nothing wrong with donating to charities; many of them do important work in our communities and supporting that isn’t wrong. However, the way we view charity and individual obligations to give in 2022 is not without its own problems.
To understand those problems, it’s important to understand the role that charity plays in society. There are a number of different causes and structures, but on a basic level, charity exists to fill a need that is not currently met within a society, or to address an issue that is not being addressed. In this way, charity can exist as a sort of middle man between individuals and larger societal structures.
Charity doesn’t address issues on a structural level, but it’s not the same as mutual aid either. When you donate to a charity, the money is distributed in whatever way the organization believes will best address the issue. That can be appealing; the people who run charities probably know a lot more about these issues and are generally trusted to know how to solve them. However, this also means that charitable donations don’t go directly to the people that they’re supposed to support.
This concept has always existed and is certainly not new to the twenty-first century. What is new is the awareness that people have of the world around them. Again, being well informed is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it certainly contributes to the feeling that individuals have the power and to that extent, the responsibility to help in whatever way they can.
What is relatively new is just how convenient making transactions has become. Whether you’re swiping past Instagram infographics or trying to check out at the grocery store, it can feel like you’re almost constantly being asked to make some kind of donation. This can lead to the feeling that charitable donations are something you opt out of rather than something you opt into. It’s far harder to say no than it is to say yes, and saying no to something that you believe to be a “worthy cause” can be a source of guilt.
At the end of the day though, is donating two extra dollars at the check out really the best way to help people? First of all, why can’t the grocery chain just make the donation and leave you out of it? It’s a pretty safe bet they have a lot more money lying around than you do. Second of all, would we even need charity in the first place if our societies did a better job at supporting all people? For example, if housing were accessible, charitable donations to end homelessness would decrease significantly, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say we’d all be better for it.
We’re constantly being relayed information about the state of the world and its problems. These problems can feel so big that we fall into a feeling of helplessness. Charity is presented as a way of counteracting that helplessness.
With so many issues to address and be aware of, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing we can do about all the suffering around us. Making a donation might feel like a way of helping, but there’s a very thin line between making donations because you want to help, and making donations because you feel guilty.