How We Keep Creating a Culture of Toxic Charity and How We Can Stop It
Charity. We all love to lend a helping hand. When we help others we feel an internal sense of gratification that we came to someone else’s rescue. The hero inside of us takes center stage and we get to fly our superhero capes with pride.
But can we help too much?
Can we help in the wrong ways that become detrimental? Is all help good and profitable? Does all help produce long-term sustainable progress? What does it even mean to be a helper or giver of resources? These are the very questions we should be asking ourselves when we choose to help others.
Now help can be done in varies ways, through various channels and in various amounts. At a very micro level we can help others with everyday things such as holding a door for someone with their hands full or assisting that same person with carrying their items to a particular destination.
At the macro level, help can be performed in a global context through missions organizations, aid resulting from natural disasters, and financial support for the poor for basic life needs. One thing’s for sure is that there is no shortage of need for help in various capacities.
So the question becomes when we help, how can we help with a holistic mindset and how can our help be executed in ways that cultivate the greatest opportunity for long-term self-sustainable aid for the recipient?
Taking a Holistic View
I think one of the primary key things to address when we talk about charity or humanitarianism is having a balanced and holistic view of what it even means to help. Oftentimes when we place ourselves as helper we attach a certain value to it that is self-elevating.
We think we are better because we can and we do help. Thus we feel a greater sense of self-worth because of it. We unconsciously then ascribe the reverse notion to the recipient of the one we give help to. We place them in a bottom-up position and attach a lower value of worth to their situation.
When we do this we create a continuous cycle of associating help with the negative. We think whoever needs help is not worthy enough or has a lower value than those who claim to not need or ask for it.
Thus, we often refuse to ask for help ourselves thinking we will willingly place our self-worth in this position of condemnation. So when you condemn yourself for needing help you most often extend that same notion of condemnation to those you are helping.
When you attach any kind of value to giving help, you attach the same level of value to needing help. So the danger of tying your self-worth to being a helper is feeling shame when you ask for help. It is interesting to note that at all points in our lives we have been in the position of needing help.
No one has gotten anywhere in life without the help of others.
When we were all born, whether your biological parents helped you or not, you were still forced to accept your dependence as a baby and need for help.
So why is it that when we grow older, we mistakenly fall prey to the myth that successful people are those who help rather than need, and broken people need rather than help?
Thus, changing the lens to which we view help is key to when we exercise our opportunity to help others.
Relief vs Development
In addition to this change in mindset, I believe that it would behoove us to understand the difference between relief versus development (as it relates to charitable assistance). Often times we neglect to delineate between the two which consequently leads to the creation of what is called toxic charity.
Toxic charity (which is an actual book title btw) is doing for rather than doing with. We send aid to people in the ways we think is helpful instead of partnering with them to develop strategic plans that work towards their self-sustainability. The quick fix is not always a sustainable fix.
The outsider's view is not always the way to go about it. I’ve seen this happen time and time again, particularly from missions or charitable organizations from North America.
In the book Going Global, it talks about how well-intentioned people from North America often waste resources and even do harm in situations that they do not understand. And that perhaps it is related to a fundamental character trait of North Americans which sometimes gets them in trouble.
They like to believe that there is a fix for every problem and that they have the solution. Accordingly, they want to achieve as much as possible within a short period of time. But the author encourages us by saying: “If you want to go fast then go alone if you want to go far go together.”
So we need to tamper any desire to position ourselves as overnight benefactors. Local people who are being engaged with charity still need to take charge of their own development process. They most often will not own a project that belongs to outsiders.
Additionally, they have knowledge and capabilities that are central to the success of any project or development so the community needs to be a part of the charitable process. Outside assistance not leveraged with the mentality of the partnership will create a dependency on outsiders rather than foster local initiative and long term development.
When you have the community participate in the process the long-term results are sustainable because the community owns the process and work.
Be Prepared For A Different Response
When we engage others through our charitable acts, we need to anticipate that people will think and act differently than ourselves. So understanding your audience by asking what they need versus telling them what they need is a start.
Whether you agree with their view of what they say they need you can still ask. Then you can determine if you have the capacity and the willingness to partner with them using your resources and their set of resources and self-dignity to achieve the sustainable goal.
We are at our best when we think of charitable actions that create justice, self-dignity and produce long-term sustainability rather than merely represent hand-outs that show that we “gave.”
Lastly, when we help we should remove the tendency to have patronizing pity or unintended superiority by expecting gratitude in exchange for the gifts given. When we give we should do just that.
Without the noose of owing or lifelong indebtedness. Our giving should be free of outlandish stipulations that can never be met or repaid. Thus our giving at its very core should be as close to free from reciprocity. It should contain the grace and freedom to allow the recipient to show gratitude at whatever level is possible for them.
- Giving is wonderful
- Giving is life-producing
- Giving is a blessing
But giving done irresponsibly can, by all means, be counterproductive and easily become an impending slippery slope. My hope is that the things you’ve read in this post will challenge you to think about the ways and thought patterns you’ve operated as it pertains to giving.
And that you begin a new conversation about ways in which you can either discard patterns that you recognize have been negatively enabling and keep those things that have been beneficial.