How giving hurts
I met a very nice couple tonight who went with their entire family and members of their church to an orphanage in Ethopia. They did not go to preach their particular denomination of Christianity, rather they went to assist the orphanage by building a small water treatment facility so they can drink clean water. What a great experience.
This conversation caused me to recall a news story I heard on NPR some months ago. It is here if you want to hear it. The story is an interview with Dambisa Moyo who wrote a book called "Dead Aid". She writes about how western countries, with good intentions, have ruined much of Africa. We send money, food, T-shirts, medicine, and other items because we think this is the "humane" thing to do. In reality, she points out, it has caused them to be dependent on us, unwilling to work because they can get things for free, and they have not learned valuable skills. Thus we have stifled their economies and made them even poorer than they were before.
This is the difference between "soft" love and hard love. "Soft" love would have us see someone who is suffering and instantly have simpathy and give them stuff. If you step back and look at the situation it is often prolonging their suffering by giving a handout. The better thing to do is to find out their situation, everyone is very different, and help them get the tools they need to work out their troubles themselves.
A book that exemplefies this topic and struggle between soft and hard love is "North and South" by Elizabeth Gaskell. It was turned into a TV-movie in 2004 by the BBC. In the book, the cotton mill workers go on strike. They are on strike for an extended period and many are without much food. The main character takes baskets of food to a family with six children. She is trying to be helpful and compassionate but is only prolonging the strike and thus the suffering of that family. We need to be compassionate but that kindness needs to be well placed or may sever to make the situation worse.
For many years I have heard comments about how in the U.S. the poor are getting poorer while the rich get richer. At the same time I have also heard how the number and size of donations to charitable organizations have increased dramatically. Why after decades of receiving are people still poor and in need? The government also hands out money and food, after some paperwork, to anyone who does not make very much money. We have trained the recipiants to think that there is nothing better in life for them and that they will never amount to anything. People grow to expect a handout and when it is, for whatever reason, not available they cry fowl.
The worst of this was several years ago when many people, dependent on the government from years of handouts, were hit by Hurricane Katrina along the gulf coasts of Luisianna and Mississippi. Some people huddled into the Super Dome and literally screamed "Why isn't the government helping me!". At that point it was our fault and we had to help them. But it is sad that they were put in such a state by our own giving. Had we instead helped them to get some training and get a better paying job they would not have been in such dire straits after the devastating hurricane.
I think soft love is "easier" for the giver because we can justify to ourselves that we had empathy and "helped" someone in need. By so doing we attempt to wash our hands and feel good inside. Really nothing can be further from the truth; this is acknowledged in our conscience as we feel pricked. We then do it again to assuage the guilt.