by Eric Santillan
I went to a house for orphans the other week, and stayed there for a whole afternoon. It was a nice activity, one I haven’t done in a long time. I played with the kids, talked to the administrator, and while I was there, I got to join a birthday party sponsored by a rich lady who had money to spare and wanted to have a more “meaningful” birthday party by spending it with under-privileged kids.
At the end of the party, I stayed on a bit and talked to the kids.
Our conversation went something like this (I cut out the parts that are not relevant to this week’s article):
Me: Gusto nyo ba ng party na ganito? (Do you like having parties?)
The kids: Gusto rin po! Pero parati nalang po kami nagpaparty eh. (We like it too. But we always have parties)
Me: Talaga? Bakit parati kayong nagpaparty? (Really? You have parties all the time?)
Kids: Marami yatang gustong mag-birthday dito. (A lot of people want to have birthdays here.)
Me: Pero kung kayo ang masusunod, ano ang gusto nyo? (But if you were given the choice, what do you want?)
Kids: Masaya naman po ang party. Pero gusto po talaga namin mag-aral. (Parties are fun also. But we really want to go to school.)
Sawa na po kami sa Jollibee! (We have Jollibee all the time!) (laughter)
I think the conversation is typical of how good intentions and “making a difference” can sometimes be more about us than the people we’re supposedly ‘helping’. Who was it who said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? It is true. We want to make a difference, but usually on our own terms, and on what is most convenient for us. Otherwise we don’t. And that is not just not truly helpful, it can be dangerous. We can give the wrong message to those we “help”, or we can start to think that any act of philanthropy is good, regardless of who benefits from it, or whether anybody is accountable to how what we give has been used. We give and forget about it and don’t check if our “gifts” reached the people who are really supposed to get it.
“Making a difference” in society — something that has been over-abused and may even be praised in media and Facebook — is over-rated. If we want to truly help, I think the minimum criteria is to do some study, to ask around. There is the sound principle that those who are being helped need to be consulted about matters that concern them. There is the understanding that those who are being helped know more about their situation–because they live it every single day–than those who help. There is the good standard that if we are going to be sloppy with the poor, we might as well just stay home.
Helping hurts. It’s not that it “should” hurt–and the quality of giving is certainly not measured by how much it hurts–but if it comes from the heart, it will. Or maybe that’s where the whole “giving until it hurts” adage comes from. Like the widow in the temple who gave out of her poverty and not out of her excess, generosity hurts.
It just seems that in this age of Facebook and media and shallow politics, people don’t feel any pain at all.