Vanity do-gooding

I don’t hate charity. I don’t hate kindness, I don’t hate generosity and I don’t hate philanthropy.

Good, now that’s all cleared up, hopefully you’ll understand my position on vanity do-gooding (even if you don’t agree).

First,let me explain what I mean by vanity do-gooding. I believe this to be any act of self-promotion (and that can include the need for affirmation) dressed up under the ‘oh but it’s for charity…’ umbrella.

The most recent example I’ve come across is this:

This was posted by one of my friends on Facebook, so I watched it. It made me sad. Not for the reasons you probably think… I’m sure a lot of people’s initial reaction would be to go ‘ahhh how lovely’ and that’s okay. Maybe my cynical streak is a little wider than others. I watched it and I immediately felt sorry for the homeless man. He didn’t ask to be uploaded to the web for everyone to see and feel sorry for. Who knows how this person got to be where he is now, what circumstances led him to be sat on the street looking to get however few coins to be able to drink something, eat something.

Then I considered the motivation of the students. Did they see a homeless man and wonder what they could do to improve his life or situation? It seems unlikely and cynical streak aside, let me explain why. Firstly, they filmed it (then later edited it) themselves. If this had come from a member of the crowd who’d got their phone out to film it, I think I’d have felt a lot differently about this video. Secondly, they were very well rehearsed. This seemed to me to have been more than something spontaneous. Again this doesn’t sit well with me; did they sit around wondering how they could go viral, rehearse a ‘show’ and then look for the first homeless person they could find?

I commented on the friend’s Facebook post just saying I felt it was exploitative and self-serving. I was immediately verbally attacked for this opinion (not by the friend), which I fully expect to be again because IT WAS FOR CHARITY!! I’m such a cold-hearted cow. But am I? I’ve contributed to charities all of my life, I donate all my old stuff to charity shops, and do at least one event a year to raise money. Why should I have to justify myself though? I don’t shout about doing this stuff (except now to make my point). I do it because I want to do it and because for me (and this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone), raising money for a charity should be selfless. Now no ‘giving’ is truly selfless because it makes you feel good, but you understand what I mean.

[Edit: it has since been brought to my attention that the video was actually staged and the homeless man was an actor hired to show what the students do, further underlining the point of self-promotion and faux charity. At least no one was exploited… this time.]

The ‘no make up selfie’ was perhaps the biggest act of vanity do-gooding I’ve seen lately. I can’t deny that it raised a lot of money for Cancer Research and I whole-heartedly believe that to be a good thing, but as Helen Moorhouse pointed out in her article, ‘There’s something about do-gooding on social media that doesn’t sit right‘, “It’s not as if cancer came on the scene at the same time as the iPhone. So why can’t good be done for goodness’ sake? Why does it have to involve self-promotion? If there’s any promotion to be done, then why not promote the cause itself?” I think this pretty much sums it up for me and the article itself is well worth a read.

So what is the point of this blog? I honestly don’t know… maybe I want to know if I’m alone (aside from Helen Moorhouse) in my discomfort when seeing these disingenuous acts of charity? Should I be ashamed and verbally attacked because I dare have a negative opinion on something that is supposedly ‘MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE?!’

I don’t hate charity. I don’t hate kindness, I don’t hate generosity and I don’t hate philanthropy. If you’re doing it, consider why you’re doing it, or at least be honest about it.


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