Friday, 19 February 2010

A Question of Charity

Something interesting happened today.  A boy came to my door, essentially selling newspapers as part of a programme that would help him pay for university.  After a little thought I agreed that for ten dollars, this was something I could feel good about supporting.

It got me to wondering.  Why this cause?  Why should I be more willing to help one kid go to school while I find the idea of disaster and poverty relief charities questionable?  I tried once to work as a canvaser for a public outreach service, but quickly left because I could not bring myself to promote an organization that I did not support 110%.  Opting to promote the branch I found least objectionable didn't help.  It simply went against my values.

When I think about it, I believe my attitude comes down to my ideas about the role of more developed countries when dealing with less developed ones.  It may be cynical of me, but I see a trend wherein anytime a more 'advaced' society gets involved with a more 'primitive' one, regardless of the intentions someone, usually the conquered/colonized/aided population ends up worse off than when they started.  Although I've seen methods that seem more sound to me, for example providing the building blocks for sustainable resources rather than handing over finished products, I'm still not totally convinced that it will pan out.

There is also the question of whether it's right for one people to impose their values on other peoples.  Who gets to decide who's morality is better?  Every society has abhorent as well as redeeming qualities in different proportions, and what is abhorent to you may be natural to me, and vice versa.  Is help even wanted?  Most of the time with large, overseas causes, I don't know if they want our help, or if 'help' is being imposed upon them. 

This brings me back to the boy at my door.  He was out doing this work on his own behalf.  The programme was there to help him help himself, and from the looks of things he was willing to make the most of the opportunity.  As a college student myself, I recognize that you get out of it what you put into it.  If this kid is willing to work to get there, then it seems to me that he'll put the same kind of effort into the post secondary experience.

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