Monday, February 18, 2008

Charity and Ego

Browsing The Gathering today I found my way to an interesting sarcastic article about "philanthrotainment". In essence it was criticising the glorification of public charitable activities by celebrities.
It makes a good point, if an obvious one. There are plenty of examples, public and private, of people who do charitable work for their own benefit rather than for the legitimate benefit of others. It's pretty easy to take shots at Geri Halliwell or Paris Hilton for their United Nations work. But if we were a little bit more honest we might find the log in our own eyes.
Helping people does feel good. Most philanthropists do want to see for themselves the results of their investments, or at least receive grateful updates from the field. The fact that the reward is primarily intrinsic rather than extrinsic and shown on seems a little bit convenient as a source of moral superiority to me.
I think its great that Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates are being widely praised for their generosity. Hopefully their example could inspire some others. Same goes for Brangelina and Bono. Is there something less than 100% selflessness at work? Sure. But that's ultimately true for me too.
The real transformation that could occur in this field would be when we learn to honour those who give time and energy instead of just money. When we can respect the degree of sacrifice involved, not just the financial figures.
I'm grateful for the people, including our founders at Catalyst Foundation, who are giving significant dollars to good causes. I sincerely respect what that involves and what it says in a culture that is so focussed on personal wealth. Still, the focus on the volume of financial giving keeps the emphasis on money as the measure of the gift.
If Madonna can trade on her fame, Bill Gates can offer his billions, and George Clooney can use his profile andd film making skills to raise awareness; maybe we can also learn to honour some people in our communities who are giving of themselves as well, even if the scale is less publically noticeable.

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