Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to help without getting in the way


Like a few people I know, I've got a feeling lately that I could be doing this whole "charmed life in the developed world" thing a lot better. Sure, I donate to charity and not for profits, I pick up my litter, and I try to smile at strangers, but surely there is more I could do (that's sarcasm, people!).

I am incredibly lucky. I estimate that I'm probably among the top 5% of the world's most fortunate people. I live in a country that provides me with a level of free (or close to free) medical care, clean water whenever I want it, and oh the food! I have access to food from around the world whenever I want it. From my home, I can easily walk to at least 2 grocery stores and a number of cafes and restaurants. These places never run out off food and offer meals at a price I can afford. I enjoy a general level of safety and political security. I have the right to free speech and to protest, to vote, and to work and live in a manner of my choosing (given some sensible parameters). I have an excellent post graduate education that cost me a fraction of the cost of a new car and my government gave me an interest free loan which is paid through my tax only when I am employed above a certain salary level. I have a job that I love dearly; it allows me to make small but noticeable differences in people's lives every day. It pays me enough to feel comfortable in my community without getting too cocky. Most importantly, I am surrounded by people who love and support me and we have regular opportunities to be in each other's company.

You see, I'm pretty lucky. You might be pretty lucky too- either in similar or other ways. And when I think about how lucky I am, I can't help thinking about the people who are living very different lives to me. I guess I'm feeling completely inadequate and incompetent when it comes to assisting those who need it most in the ways that will help the most.

But this is not about guilt. While guilt has been a tool of choice for some organizations, I'm not interested in guilt trips. Guilt will motivate someone to donate a few dollars for some relief from that nagging feeling. Guilt is good for creating a short term fix. Guilt will not engage the heart end the mind. Guilt will not help empower people to do what they can with what they have. In fact, guilt has the potential to make us lose hope; to think that the problem is too big, or too distant.

I'm hoping to make lasting changes in my everyday life that will make a difference to the way that my actions impact on and contribute to the lives of others. This isn't about donations, which might be forgotten or inconsistently made. This isn't about one two week trip to Africa to build a school, and I'll explain why later. This isn't about creating a new organization; there are plenty of good organizations out there, the world probably doesn't need a new one. This is about supporting and joining groups that move beyond charity, who offer long term solutions that are context sensitive.

Let the journey begin!