In the run-up to Christmas, as much in reaction to the consumerism and gluttony as out of piety, there is an increased focus on charity. You might think that charity is one of those unproblematic good things. But in this attached dialogue – Charity -(also pasted below) set in a school staffroom, explores some of the deeper issues.
Good causes, good effects
What causes are most deserving of charity? (Animal, cultural, welfare, emergency or long term, at “home” or far away?)
How should the impact of giving be measured? (You could explore the effective altruism movement which seeks to be scientific about helping others – www.effectivealtruism.org)
Do charitable ends justify fundraising means? (Emotional manipulation, fundraising costs, targeting of donors)
There is also an invitation in the dialogue to explore the difference between reasons and excuses. Who in the dialogue has good reasons for their actions, and who is just making excuses? How can you tell if someone is just making excuses?
Is charity a matter of pity or of justice?
In connection with this last question, you might also try an activity developed by Liz Alium of the Reading International Solidarity Centre (part of a toolkit you can get for just the cost of P&P from www.risc.org.uk/toolkit. Here’
s her description:
“To raise discussion around justice not pity, I often use a range of fundraising and charity leaflets, from sponsor a child, shoebox appeal types through to amnesty letter writing campaigns. I then ask the group to rate them, and let them choose their own criteria by which to do that. The criteria they select alone generates hugely interesting perspectives but then seeing the different opinions about each appeal never fails to raise the distinction between justice and pity.”
PS. In recent weeks we have done workshops at the Kent Headteachers’ Conference, The Society of Heads and the Independent Association of Prep Schools. These are always very popular workshops and they often lead to long-term collaborations with the organisations and individual schools. If you’re connected to any cluster or association, send us details and we’ll send some free books to both you and the organisers and see if we can arrange to be part of the next event. See: www.thephilosophyman.com/
Where does charity begin?
The school staff room at lunchtime. Teachers and teaching assistants are sat eating.
GEOFF My class are doing a Singathon for the Christmas Appeal. Do you want to sponsor them?
LAURA I’ve heard them practise. If you do a sponsored silence instead, I’ll give you a fiver.
GEOFF That’s not very charitable!
LAURA I don’t feel very charitable at this time of year. Too many charity ads.
KAREN I know what you mean. Neglected children looking at you like puppies…
LAURA …puppies looking at you like neglected children.
GEOFF You old miseries. It’s supposed to be the season of goodwill.
KAREN I’ve got goodwill. But I do my bit already. I have a direct debit that goes out each month to a school charity in Tanzania. I just don’t like the way these adverts tug at your heart strings. They make the children look so pathetic. It’s all about pity.
MARY Well, if that’s what works, isn’t it better the charities get more money?
LAURA Not if loads of it goes on advertising. If I give money to charity, I want it to go to the people who need it, not to pay for TV adverts.
MARY Do you give money to charity?
LAURA Not at the moment, no.
MARY Then the ads aren’t aimed at you. Maybe they need a bit of pity to get people to part with their money, to make them feel good about helping.
KAREN It shouldn’t be about how you feel. It should be about what’s right. I think it’s wrong that children anywhere don’t get a good education, because they’re just like our children.
TOM But what about children in this country? Lots of them have a miserable time too. We can’t fix the world.
LAURA I can’t fix my washing machine. That’s where my money will be going.
LUCY I think it’s best to put your charity where it makes the biggest difference. You can save a life in some countries for the same money it costs to look after a dog in Battersea Dogs’ home here.
MARY But the puppies look so cute.
LUCY That’s just the problem. It should be a rational decision, not based on which charity has the best adverts.
LAURA You’re all making me feel guilty now. Geoff, I’ll give you £2 if you promise not to do “Away in a Manger”.