Once, some years ago, my daughter, Elise, who has always been wise beyond her years, asked this: I have some money I would like to give the refugees, but the reason I want to give it is so that people will think highly of me. If that is my motive, should I or should I not give the money? Did I mention she was 11 when she asked this?
I told her she should give the money, because the money has the same value whether it is given by a selfish bastard, or by a selfless nun. But that her goal should be to work on her heart so that eventually she would start giving simply because it was the right thing to do. Not because of the praise, or other benefits, she will receive. Eventually, I said, the joy of giving will be a reward of itself. If people know that you gave or not will be of less importance.
I honestly don’t remember what she ended up doing.
I have thought about this though, because living in a rich nation where people have everything they need at all times, where people seldom have to fight really hard to get food on the table and warm socks to wear in the winter, I am often faced with people who want to help for the wrong reasons. They want to help because they want to feel good. They want to help because they want to be challenged. They want to help because they want to have worth, and what better way to increase your worth than to be seen helping starving children?
That kind of attitude sickens me. I heard once: The poor don’t need your charity. They need justice. And justice, what is that? Sometimes I think justice would be to place all of us in a slum where cockroaches abide close to our sleeping mat, where food is luxury and medicines only for the rich and privileged. Justice would be to allow the poor to storm our houses, our shopping malls and our cruise ships.
It is a good thing for you, and me, that I am not the judge of the world.
Is it right to do the right things for the wrong reasons? Is it OK to fly to Africa (or to Asia, or anywhere else for that matter) and spend some days giving of our abundance, get some photos taken and then go home and feel better about our lifestyles in the small part of the world that spends most of the world’s resources? A lot of people are doing just that nowadays. Travel agencies advertise for vacations with a meaning. People say they are tired of just vacationing on the beach. Now they want to go to an orphanage too.
To be totally frank, I don’t know. Part of me says: No way! No to charity tourism. No to turning poor people’s dwellings into zoos so that some rich people can have a good experience and feel like they did a good deed, and then go back home and continue their extravagant lifestyles.
But then there is a part of me who thinks that it can be good to take the rich to experience the lives of the poor too. The experience may change them. The afternoon they spend with orphans blowing bubbles and throwing balloons in the air may actually make them realize that these are kids just like our own kids. They just don’t have the opportunities our own kids have. Would they have come to that conclusion if they had stayed on the beach? Or in their own living room watching the news? Most likely not.
In my country there is a group of people who wants to send immigrants and refugees out of the country faster than I can say Asshole. They want to give less money in foreign aid than we currently do because in their mind the people who are poor are largely responsible for their own problems. They also want to prohibit begging since beggars mostly are criminals or plain lazy. It often occurs to me that their inhumane attitude must come from the fact that not one of them have had dinner with a refugee, they have never wiped the nose of an orphan, and they have never sat down to share a cup of tea with a beggar. They have never actually spent any time with the people whom they reject. It is likely their attitudes will never change, unless they become friends with one of the people they despise.
Our goal must be to work for a just world. Our goal must be that the goods will be distributed in such a way that we all can have full stomachs when we go to bed, be warm enough, feel safe, get medicine when we are sick, study, work and dare to dream about the future. The best thing would be if we all willingly gave up some of what we think of as ours to give to them, and then the problem was solved. We all know it is not that easy.
So, the answer to the question I asked myself is that, yes, sometimes one has to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Eventually that may turn into doing the right thing for the right reason.
It reminds me of when I emptied my closet and gave the clothes to refugees. I wanted to help, that is true. But I also wanted an excuse to buy new clothes. The refugees who were blessed with my old clothes were happy. They needed clothes. And I, I confirmed the theory some people have about humans being corrupt, selfish and even dishonest.