Why don’t we #HELP? The culture of withdrawal, guilt and emotional self-gratification


They dominate both social media and our day-to-day communication.

#Help. #ChildrenInSyria. #EndPoverty. #HelpTheVictimsOfHurricane. #EndDomesticViolence.

These are all big words, significant statements, great slogans, but, somehow, often, they are not followed up with action. The most recent Ice Bucket Challenge was a perfect example of hundreds of thousands of people buying into taking on the challenge, having a great time, but not necessarily donating to the cause. The trend of hashtaging and publicising matters has become so popular that somehow, in our global culture, we think that the instant a problem reaches the media, the issue will solve itself and it doesn’t require any action from the individual. We do not see that often the moment the cameras are packed up and featuring celebrities board their private jets and leave, the people who asked for that help and were essentially used for publicity are left the same way that they were found; with the same issues, because problems, regardless of what the make-believe light of a flash may tell us, are not so easily resolvable.

We can easily point the finger at a regular citizen of the planet Earth and accuse them of not being sensitive enough. After all, they did see what’s happening on the telly, no? Why then not help? Why choose to hashtag and withdraw oneself into our own world behind the screen, feel guilty and sad about what is happening in the world, but refusing to open the wallet? I am directing this question at myself as well as at everyone else. Why are we capable of feeling sympathy for causes which are presented to us via media, but we are quite unwilling to donate? Why, though we even donated, we would be more than unwilling to get directly involved with the issue and try to solve it? Is it fair to have that kind of expectation from us?

We live in a crazy world, where nothing is private any longer and information technology allows us to know about things that happened in the middle of Antarctica first thing in the morning over our bowl of cereal or a jam scone. If you are in the habit of turning on the telly over your morning coffee your stomach will refuse any intake because the morning news has just started reporting that in Germany a father held his daughter captive for twenty years and raped her continuously with the permission of her mother. Next, you are being informed that the global warming accelerates the melting of the ice caps and more penguins are finding themselves homeless. Another clip informs you that the oil prices are rising and you need to fill your tank as soon as possible, preferably leaving home this very second and queuing at the petrol station with others who were also lucky enough to turn on the morning news. Quietly while feeling for the poor abused child, you’re calculating how much money you have left in your wallet and which petrol station to trust the most in terms of providing you with hopefully undiluted petrol for the lowest price. You are making a mental note to discuss the issue of child abuse at work, come to satisfactory intellectual conclusions thus reaching intellectual gratification, a catharsis; all that hopefully by lunch break, because you have to meet your ex-husband and tell him off for not visiting the children over the weekend. Next the TV presenter is informing you with a big smile that it’s pointless to work for your pension, because in juxtaposition there are more retired people than those actively working and, if that wasn’t enough, at least 40 percent of the working class is actually unemployed. Thirty seconds later you are told that coffee, apples, bananas or other products have been re-classified by scientists as harmful and you should avoid them at any cost. You quickly finish your cup of coffee accelerating the placebo effect, imagining what it does to your insides. By the time you take your morning shower you have forgotten about the abused German child, homeless penguins and even the deadly coffee thinking only about making your monthly salary stretch even further, because, after all, you have to simply survive.

There is only as much as one person can take emotionally. Each piece of daily news is designed to play on our emotions. Each poster on the tube or on the bus shows us a starving face of a child, a dying, skinned animal or an elderly person in rags. Each is calling to us that, if we care, we have to do something about it. Each is calling us to join their campaign and donate. Each time you walk to your work, from it or simply are taking a lunch break, you are assaulted by charity representatives using their pitch talk designed to manipulate you into donating. We then come home and notice that bills need to be paid, our mothers need financial assistance, children don’t have winter clothes and grandparent’s anniversary is coming up soon which means that all family will chip in to make sure the party is a blast.

As a result we numb and shut down. We stop noticing the posters, selectively listen to the news and instead we hashtag, to show support of course, but we do not let any of these problems penetrate our daily life. Are we really that selfish? Do we really prefer to turn a blind eye on someone else’s suffering?

The answer is no, we are not blind. We are not selfish. We just simply cannot go on caring about the entire world at once. We recognise that there are people starving in Africa, that there is an outbreak of a virus in Indonesia, that Tibetans are yet again persecuted and that a lion was killed and skinned by a dentist with supposedly a very big ego and a very, very small car. However when we weigh all these external issues and our daily lives where, realistically, should we fail to provide for it, we will end up on the street and our children will not have food on their plates; we choose to take care of our immediate needs stretching them as far as our community where we can really see the genuine need and our influence. When we give to our neighbour and we see improvement we understand why we help. If we give to the Syrian children, the same sad face stares at us every day on our way to work regardless of how much we donate. We intentionally learn how to numb ourselves. However, we also feel guilty for not doing anything significant to improve the situation of bees in South America. So we hashtag, to show support, to raise awareness, thus gratifying ourselves that at least we did something, we passed the message, someone will eventually do something to help.

Most of the time they do not. We know that too, but we have long ago lost trust in people and organisations. Why is it easier to provide goods for the beggar than give him money? Because we have been lied to too many times in our lives and we just simply do not trust other people with the sweat and blood of our labour – money. It’s easier for us to buy them food, pay their rent, contribute to their bills, if we see than they are honest. This is the line of thought that we often employ and which we apply in our dealings with charitable organisations. Just to put things in a perspective, according to the Chronicles of Philanthropy there are 1.2 million charity organisations worldwide (2010). Each of these organisation is driven to help their focus group, both people and animals. Let’s estimate that annually we targeted directly or indirectly by one third of these in terms of their focus group, not necessarily having in mind any particular charity. Each of them is asking us for a donation. A reasonably small one. We don’t think it will actually affect our salary until we see our bank statement and we are forced to make cuts.

According to the same source, one of the issues behind the continuous struggle for charitable giving is the rapid, almost 5% increase in the number of charities within just one year. That simply means that an increasing number of charities will contact us for donation, not needing our direct involvement further than the IOU. For years now, sadly, we have been correspondingly experiencing a general global economic crisis with rising costs of living and frozen salaries. When everyday life becomes a challenge the last thing on our mind is sending money to organisations which, forced by changes in legislation, only recently became increasingly transparent. For years people gave towards multiple causes only to later learn that the organisation used the majority of funds to sustain itself, pay their own wages, their debts or simply organise lavish holidays.

For example, earlier this year four charities were sued in the United States following the complaint [which] “alleged that (…) four ‘sham charities’ solicited millions in donations by promising to help pay for hospice care, chemotherapy, and other services for cancer patients. But only a fraction of that money actually went to patients. The rest went to company cars, high salaries, and even a Caribbean cruise”.

For the purpose of maintaining the transatlantic balance, in Daniel Craig’s (not the actor’s) controversial expose it was reported that there are too many charities running today in the UK for any monitoring to be effective. With over 195 thousand charities actively running in the UK their income has reached, if not exceeded, £80 million a year. This is certainly not the attack on all charities, but those that find playing on public emotions to be a lucrative business. In addition, some charities have been established in an attempt to avoid tax and they simply have nothing to do with helping people. Nonetheless they are campaigning for money. Considering that the funds do not always go to those in need we become even more reserved and frugal with our spending, genuinely calculating that since I do not know where my money goes, why would I donate in the first place? Shouldn’t my family be the priority?

I may be battered for saying this, but I believe that my family and then the immediate community should be the recipient of my voluntary charity. I do not believe in organisations and I do, wholeheartedly, understand why we choose to hashtag instead of actually donating and “making a change worldwide”. Following the case of the hurricane in Haiti in 2010 and the mishandling of 16 million dollars of raised funds I remember questioning the legitimacy of the entire campaign and the actual destination of the raised funds.

As if this wasn’t enough, the moment TV crews left Haiti satisfying their hunger for news, the local population was left, devastated and alone – exactly the same way they were found. Unless one actually goes with their money to the country that needs help, they can never be sure how the money that they chose not to spend on themselves, their children or their local community is being handled.

I doubt that the problem lies with people being increasingly unwilling to provide financial assistance. I think the problem becomes a nagging issue when we can no longer trust registered charitable organisations to utilise their funds in helping others rather than themselves. Despite increased transparency and websites that actually allow us to look into the annual spending of each charity, I often choose to help my local community. On a more personal level, returning to what I wrote at the beginning of this article, a single person is not able to help the entire world and, living in today’s globalised world, where we are instantly part of a dance off in South Argentina, birth of a penguin in Antarctica and shooting in Syria, we have to switch off at some point and narrow our view to what is immediately important to us. This doesn’t mean that we should be ignorant to the world events, not at all. On the contrary, considering how we frequently are bombarded with news daily, we can only be sure of one thing – that we are never presented with the whole story and it takes an amount of research to attempt and understand what is happening and not allow our worldview to be solely shaped by propaganda. On the other hand, we also cannot directly fly to Syria and take the children away, give them shelter, shoot the trouble-makers on the spot and restore the balance of the country. We cannot physically prevent the Muslim-Christian clashes in Nigeria. We cannot save the lion from being skinned. But somehow the media makes us think that it all depends on us. I politely disagree. It doesn’t. It is still normal to feel for people and wanting to help. However, we do not want to be taken advantage of. This is the reason why we hashtag. We make ourselves feel better by raising awareness, but what does that change that we know all that is happening? Can we actually prevent things from happening? Does another intellectual debate at the dinner table or at the university actually changes anything? We are caught up in a vacuum between passiveness and dishonesty.

I am asking this question in helplessness knowing that if the local people and the government of a given country do not care for their own fellow citizens, then these people will sadly die. The influx of refugees into 1st World Countries has increased dramatically within the past years. In Europe, for example, there has been recorded a 24% increase in the number of refugees in 2014 in comparison to 2013 in all 38 countries.

I want to make this clear, I believe that everyone deserves to be helped. There is no question about it. Can we help everyone? Can Europe for that matter, since we are talking about numbers, absorb 100% of refugees? Of course not. Transferring population between continents will not help for various reasons. Who then should be held responsible for stabilising the countries, which are currently in distress when their own existing or non-existing governments couldn’t care less?

This is exactly why over our breakfast we turn on our selective listening and listen attentively to the weather forecast, but not necessarily to the stories of death and destruction. When we count our pennies, we make choices between us and them. If we are successful, we can transfer the guilt into helping our local community thus seeing change in people’s lives telling ourselves that there is nothing we can do to help a dog being eaten in Vietnam, if one cares for such a thing. In the end, we experience the sense of self-gratification that we did something substantial and therefore we are not pressured to think about the world.


In conclusion, I will answer this question. No, it doesn’t make us feel better, because in general a healthy human being wants to help everyone. I want for everyone to live in peace, with enough food on their table, a roof over their heads, without violence and stupid ideas about hurting a fellow neighbour. Can I achieve that? Only in my immediate surrounding by changing myself first. We cannot help the entire world, but we can make our immediate surrounding “our world” and help the needy. Globalists say “think global, act local”. I say, forget the global, unless you want to be on meds for depression or unless this is your actual vocation. Instead make the local your world. Help where you can and don’t feel bad about not being able to do anything about the penguins or pelicans. Not every battle is yours to fight.


2 thoughts on “Why don’t we #HELP? The culture of withdrawal, guilt and emotional self-gratification

  1. #deepthoughts. (chuckle)

    There is much wisdom in this post. It raises a heap of issues regarding charities and how they operate today – I think they are encouraged (for the sake of donations) to be idealistic (Lets’ End Poverty!!) whereas the old charities were more pragmatic and limited in their aims.

    Yet we can be generous outside of our community and country but perhaps we should be more honest about the causes we espouse and the limited help we can offer. For instance during the Armenian genocide (100 years ago) America collected money and provided much material help for the victims. But they were focused and practical, doing what was needed for the while and not imagining they could change the world.

    You are spot on about the Haiti earthquake fund raising fiasco. If there has ever been a disaster that could have been greatly alleviated by well targeted funds, well this was it… but though broken promises and dire corruption the last state of the country was worse than the first. Tragic…


    1. I very much agree with you in terms of organisations needing to focus more on the pragmatic aspects of help, rather an idealistic thought of how they want the world to be a better place. Frankly however, in general we are often misinformed about what charities are planning to do. Providing that our donation have to also pay for their salaries and existence, that very small percentage of our donation is not enough to make an actual change.

      I do not completely disregard the need for helping other people; my argument was that the only way to ensure that the funds are not being misused is to provide that help ourselves and since we do not control what is happening on another continent then perhaps we should think about attending the issues of our local population within which we have a significant percentage of people living under the poverty level, but who are too ashamed to beg for food or money.


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