Friday, June 15, 2012

When is charity justified?

When I nose around the Internet, I occasionally come upon pleas for donations. (To individuals, I mean, not organizations.) These don't crop up very often, and when they do, they're almost always for good causes. Sometimes heart-wrenching causes.

The request I saw today was for someone with a recently deceased adult son. His funeral expenses apparently "turned out to be" more than the parent(s) could afford. Since one of these parents is a publishing industry professional, and nothing was said about her being poverty-stricken, I was left a bit mystified. But it was the implication of an unexpected financial burden that really had me scratching my head -- hence, the scare quotes.

At any meeting with a funeral director -- and I'm speaking from experience -- the costs of mortuary products and services are laid out (no pun) up front. The final tally isn't simply sprung on unsuspecting loved ones following the proceedings. Even more to the point, choices for a funeral are wide and varied enough to fit within almost any budget. Cremation followed by a no-frills memorial service or modest wake is probably the most affordable. A number of my friends have been sent off this way, and there was nothing in the least bit disrespectful about it.

So why (I was wondering as I read this item on Twitter) didn't the parent(s) fashion a funeral that was within their means? Why must they now rely on the kindness of strangers? I don't quite get it.

I think we've all seen online calls for help -- usually, for people who are battling catastrophic illnesses or whose lives have been thrown into disarray by natural disasters. These situations tear at me. I know what a disgusting excuse for a health-care system this country has. I know fires and floods, tornadoes and hurricanes can be devastating. Or losing a job. Or being the victim of a crime or a serious accident. We have no control over such events, and the resulting expenses can quickly spiral out of control. Nobody needs to explain to me why help is necessary.

But help in paying for a funeral whose cost could have been controlled? This I do need explained to me.

Another round of pleas I've seen (yes, a round; they're ongoing) has come from a talented writer who simply decided to stop writing. He was very popular and successful in the not-so-distant past and undoubtedly earned a damned good living. Not only is he no longer writing, he's not doing much of anything. Neither age nor health is a factor. No mental impairment or physical disability is/was involved in the sacrifice of his career or his current lack of employment. He could easily, easily approach most any print or electronic publisher and immediately have a contract, even on spec. Guaranteed. I haven't been able to determine exactly what this person's problem is.

Yet, he has no qualms about asking for/accepting donations from friends and fans -- to pay the mortgage, buy food, you name it. Again, this is incomprehensible to me. I think I'd rather cut off my head than take money for nothing, especially if I was still able, somehow, to generate income on my own.

So where do you draw the line? Are hardship and need mostly subjective? Do they exist primarily in the mind of the person who claims to be experiencing them? Or are there universal, objective standards? Do you ever feel guilty for turning your back on calls for help? Should they be taken at face value? What makes you find some of them specious? (And I'm not talking about the kind of begging that turns up in your spam folder. ;))

I've been wrestling with this issue. I don't like adopting a hard line on anything, except when it comes to hateful fuckwits, but I'm too poor myself to compensate strangers for their questionable decisions.


Tam said...

Sometimes for me it's rather arbitrary. Obviously if I feel the request is legitimate and as you said, someone has fallen ill and can't afford medical care and obviously can't work, but it's kind of a friend of a friend and I trust the source is not being just a lazy ass or ripping me off, I will give, but not always.

Sometimes I think, well, I can throw $10 their way. After all, I blew $5 on that crappy lunch that went in the trash at work today. But if I gave $5 or $10 to every case that I come across, it would soon be $1000 or more a year, that's nearly a month's rent. It can add up and I do have a life to pay for, a kid to support, my own responsibilities, even if others may think I'm spending more than I need to on rent/payments, etc. I've made a commitment and have to honour that first. So there is no hard line, I won't say never for paying for your pet's surgery, always for cancer meds, because sometimes, it may depend on my mood at any given time.

K. Z. Snow said...

Your attitudes are probably similar to most people's, Tam. We all have certain standards, and the closer we are to someone, the more likely we'll want to help. Plus, we all have our personal soft spots; those are determining factors too.

Jenre said...

I will probably come across as hard hearted here but I never give to these appeals. How can you be certain that you're not being lied to or the money is going where it says it's going? You don't. OK it seems I' m a touch cynical too.

If a friend asked me for some money because they were in hardship, I'd happily take them shopping for food or give them money to tide them over. I have on occasion paid the cost of a child so that the family could go on holiday. These are people I know though. We may be a close knit online community but except for a few people, I don't really know any of them and would feel uncomfortable giving my money to them.

I am a little concerned about the writer who is asking his fans for money. To me this smacks of using emotional blackmail for extortion. That's worrying, especially as there are lots of authors out there who are struggling with a job and writing career.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Jen. I get your attitude. It's hard not to be cynical in this day and age. Scammers seem to be multiplying like rats.

My reaction to that writer is the same as yours. I've been following his blog for almost a year (after having read a book I really liked), and I've been appalled by the multiple instances of "oh poor me, I can't afford [fill in the blank]." So yeah, he gets by in large part by sponging off people. Emotional blackmail? You bet.