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On pity and politeness, or why charities need a communications rethink

However well founded and presented, the most excruciating stories about suffering in the world keep failing to mobilise the scale of action required. Perhaps appealing to solidarity rather than pity could help charities drive identification with their cause more effectively. If anything, it would help right that messed up power relationship between the ‘generous’ and the ‘needy’ they tend to feed off.

Vickie Hawkins at Meaning 2017, speaking about MSF’s response to the refugee crisis. ©Clive Andrews

Why, then, did I still walk out feeling troubled and conflicted?

It’s endemic in the way charities communicate with us — appealing to our guilt, powerlessness and pity.

Pity or solidarity? Time for a new approach

pity ‘has a vested interest in the existence of the weak’.

But it is out of solidarity with others, a shared drive for justice or change, that we join those who’re oppressed and exploited, on an equal footing, as fellow human beings whose struggles affect us, too.

Poster at Disobedient Objects, Victoria and Albert Museum, September 2014.

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