15th May, 2019
I am troubled, like most people, by seeing homeless people begging on the streets and transport system. I learnt a long time ago through work with this population that handing over money was not the wisest thing to do so have salved my conscience by always having food in my bag and offering them something, which they sometimes accept. I also do other indirect charitable acts but this post is not the place for going into that.
I am not a psychotherapist but as an applied psychologist have studied the emotional aspects of development, learning and function of individuals, groups and organisations. Years ago I heard a psychotherapist speaker at a conference and he spoke of the ‘compassion fatigue’ that, in his view, afflicted contemporary western society and which posed serious threats to wellbeing and mental health. I’ve often wondered if there was some truth in this as I’ve listened to and felt the weight of concern and helplessness in the words of clients of all ages, backgrounds and situations.
The surge of well stocked charity shops on every high street show that a lot of people must be supporting charity and a week doesn’t go by that some celebrity, including the royal family is endorsing and encouraging people to support a particular good cause and the benefits to their public profile and career are inextricably woven into this.
There is also the matter of huge corporations like banks and other commercial empires promoting and extorting people to give or promising to do so on their behalf in return for custom. Somehow that seems altogether too mercenary to me but they would no doubt argue that the means to an end doesn’t matter if there is more money for charities. Actor and film maker, Venkat Desireddy’s quote: “Charity is something you do for your inner happiness, not for attention or benefits.” seems to have the ring of truth to it and also highlights the difference between huge corporations and individuals, i.e. corporations do not have heart or feelings, whatever business studies and human resource manuals claim, whereas people do.
I don’t have any simplistic answers to this complex issue and I do not imagine anyone else does but I do wish that those with the power and voice to reach the public, i.e. national and local government, media and charities themselves would, for once, consider the effects of this huge societal pressure on individuals to give. What we all need is a conversation on how we might moderate and balance the constant level of demand. I also think it would be better for everyone’s psychological health to acknowledge the potential economic and political manipulation by large organisations and institutions of this basic human drive to be kind and compassionate.