“I don’t give to charity, because too many of them are scams,” “I didn’t give to that homeless person because she will just spend it on drugs anyway,” “I didn’t comfort that crying person because he should toughen up!” Too often, we make excuses for not doing the most we can to help others. As human beings, we are not always able to help everyone who needs help, but much of the time, making excuses like this do even more harm that doing nothing at all. Today, I am exploring these different excuses, their effect, and what you can do instead.
Giving to charity, giving to homeless people, and comforting people when they are upset are wonderful things to do, but let’s face it – we are all human beings and sometimes we can’t always help. Maybe you don’t have money to spare right now. Maybe you do not have the emotional energy to be supportive to someone else at that time. Rather than making harmful excuses that imply that other people are not worthy of being helped, be honest with yourself. Make a commitment, not to be perfect, but to be thoughtful about how your actions affect others, and to continually strive to be a better person.
“I don’t give to charity, because too many of them are scams.”
Why saying this is more harmful than simply not giving: This perpetuates the attitude that charities as whole are not ethical stewards of donor money or do not make a positive impact in the world. This is simply not true – charities do everything from feeding the hungry to helping people find gainful employment, overcome health problems, support the environment we live in, and so much more. If one supermarket ripped you off, would you never go to another supermarket ever again? Why do we have this attitude about charity, and not any other sector? It’s OK to say:
- I can’t afford to give right now, or I would like to save up for now so I can make a larger impact later.
- I want to focus my giving on different charities (than whoever happens to be asking).
- I need some time to research and think about what charities are most meaningful to me.
It is helpful to:
- Be strategic in your giving – donate in amounts that fit your income and lifestyle, and support organizations that match your priorities.
- Do your research and find out whether a charity has ethical practices before you give.
- If you don’t have money to spare but still want to support a charity, consider volunteering or giving gifts in-kind.
“I didn’t give to that homeless person because she will just spend it on drugs anyway.”
Why this is harmful: This type of excuse makes an assumption that a person in need is unworthy or incapable of responsibly handling a gift. This is an insulting claim, and contributes to the dehumanization of homeless people. You don’t have to give, but you do have to treat people with dignity. It’s OK to:
- Consult the Coalition for the Homeless‘ page on “What to do if..” for more information on how to best help homeless people you encounter across a variety of situations.
“I didn’t comfort that crying person because he should toughen up!”
Why this is more harmful that simply not helping: “Just getting over it” isn’t an option for many people, including those who struggle with serious issues such as trauma or depression. Telling them to “toughen up” implies that they are weak, and can cause them to become more stressed or depressed. Worst of all, perpetuating this stigma often prevents people from getting the help they really need. It’s OK to:
- Be attentive to your own needs. You don’t have to be self-sacrificing to be helpful.
- Be too busy to meet in person. If you’re worried about someone, a simple text or a phone call to let them know that you care can be enough to lift their spirits.
- Encourage them to get help, and make sure they know that getting help is nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s helpful to:
- Just listen.
For more tips on how to be a supportive friend, check out my recent post on the subject. As always, thanks for reading!